Hello–I’m new to the Hamline blog (though not to the program). I’m excited to be part of the conversation.

A week ago today, Phyllis Root and I slipped away to see the McKnight Prairie Preserve, a remnant of original prairie that runs along a low ridge south of the Cannon River. We parked next to a cornfield. I was still seeing generic grass and flowers when a meadowlark sang from a post, and Phyllis began to name the blossoms at our feet. Daisy fleabane. Milk vetch. Grey headed coneflower. Flowering spurge. Prickly pear cactus. (Yes, cactus native to the prairie. Who knew?) Prairie milkweed, nothing like Vermont milkweed, but also tasty to monarchs. Lead plant, far prettier than its name. I felt like my grandkids, who are pointing at everything and asking “Zat?” Luckily for me, Phyllis knew the answers.

I love learning new names, even though I may forget them. Specific names add spice to bland prose. They also bring up images and associations. When an illustrator for my picture book wanted me to remove the word “seagrape” from my story—because she’d never seen a seagrape bush—I sent her photos. For me, the word seagrape evokes the sound of flat, saucer-shaped leaves rattling in the wind. I smell the salt air, and hear my grandfather’s scratchy voice as he shows me the tracks of a bobcat, imprinted in wet sand beneath a seagrape bush.

As I clear my desk this morning, perhaps these names will find their way into a poem or story, like Ron Koertge’s talismanic words. Showy tick trefoil. Culver’s root. And here’s one for Buddy the Poetry Cat: Field’s Cat Foot.

What specific nouns and names show up in your writing now?