Thursday, May 2, 2013


I've always loved the drive from Sewanee into the valley of Cowan and on to our grocery destination in Winchester, Tennessee. A few days ago while making that drive, a friend and I were wowed at the sight of a hillside covered with bright yellow flowers – a sea of shimmering plants that we later identified as Rapeseed. Of course, I didn't like the sound of the plant's name but was glad we photographed it for a blog as it was a sight worth recording.
When I researched Rapeseed, I was surprised to find the Brits think it's a plant that scars their landscape since they prefer more natural green hills. However, they've been inundated by Japanese tourists who began flocking to the windows of a train passing through the UK to view the brilliant yellow plants and later exclaimed that the sight brightened the typical rainy, gray landscape of the British countryside. Actually, the Brits have been using the plant's oil for lubricating engines since the 19th century, and they plan to increase their tours of Rapeseed fields from 20 to 70 this year.
Rapeseed could cause hay fever, but there's no conclusive evidence that it does and no reason for anyone to defame it in this manner. The crop is being utilized for animal feed, as well as for vegetable oil. The Chinese make oil cakes of the plant and use it for fertilizer. Farmers in the U.S. grow two crops of Rapeseed – one for industrial uses that has a high content of erucic acid, and another edible crop with low content of erucic acid that is used for the popular salad dressing, Canola oil.
I’m glad that someone gave one of Rapeseed's cultivars a new name – Canola, and I was moved to write a wry snippet about the flowering hillside I saw on our trip to the valley this past week:


cascades on the hill near Cowan,
carrying the name of a ravaged past,


Brilliant as the April sun,
a phalanx of plants emerges,

having endured hard frosts,
a season of strong wind,

now glints with yellow light
soon pressed into oil for leafy salads,
lubricant for machinery.

Used, used,
everything radiant to the eye

used for anything
pickled, cooked, sauced,

preserved before natural decadence,
the pain it cannot escape

in fraught territory.

Seeds of the yellow lake
have survived since 5,000 B.C.,

twenty million hectares
waving in fields today,

hillside plants slain,
joining poor relations:

cabbage and mustard,
their ancestors, too early.

And humans, abashed,
blushing at the plant's sobriquet,

have finally given it
a less despoiled name,

a lyrical one that sounds
as if they won't really ravage the plant

before allowing it a timely end…

Photograph by Victoria Sullivan.
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