There are some words and phrases in the English language that completely baffle me. You might even say they are my phonetic foibles.
Awry is one of those words. When my eyes come across it in a sentence, my mind immediately wants to pronounce it as aw-ree. When I do, it’s followed by a momentary beat and I say to myself, “Oh, it’s uh-rye again.”
That’s fine if I’m reading quietly, but not if the word should make an appearance mid-paragraph if I were reading aloud. In that situation, I don’t think there’s such a thing as even a little-bit pregnant pause.
A new word joined the list just a few years ago. Quinoa. Sorry doesn’t seem to be the hardest word, Elton. Quinoa is. If I see it on a menu or in the grocery store, my first impulse is to say, kwin-o-uh — like it’s a summer camp on the shores of a Catskill lake. It never ever occurred to me to pronounce it as keen-wah.
The realization that my kwin-o-uh and everyone else’s keen-wah were one in the same occurred while watching a cooking a show. The celebrity chef spoke of keen-wah, but the ingredients printed on the screen said kwin-o-uh.
Here that? That’s the sound of a light bulb flashing on.
Still, my instinct is to continue to use my own pronunciation, which is why I avoid speaking of the grain in public. The last thing I want to do is ask a waiter, “How do you prepare the kwin-o-uh?” I imagine other waiters dropping trays, diners stopping mid-slurp, steak knives screeching across china — and then silence and stares.
Very recently, briefly deciduous made an even briefer appearance on my list of linguistic liabilities — all thanks to my friend Mary Collins, of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens in Miami, Florida. During my quest to find signs of spring in summer-like South Florida, she explained to me that some species of trees lose their leaves for a short while and then re-bloom.
I tried to use this piece of information at a gathering of neighbors. As they looked across the canal, they noticed a tree that seemed to be losing its leaves — the same tree that I had featured in a WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge called “Reflections,” shown at the top of this post. Only now the leaves of the tree were turning brown and dropping. Could this be briefly deciduous in action?
As the neighbors commented on the tree’s sad condition — it looked like it was dying — I wanted to say, “You know, some South Florida trees are briefly deciduous.”
But I kept quiet, as if that tree were a big heaping bowl of kwin-o-uh.
What if the neighbors asked me more questions, asked me to explain what it means to be briefly deciduous? What did I really know about briefly deciduous trees, anyway? In the north, trees are deciduous for a lot longer than briefly. And why would a tree be deciduous at this time of year? I thought trees lost their leaves as a reaction to lower temperatures and changes in hours of sunlight. In South Florida, temperatures are warm and there is ample sunlight.
As I watched the tree — which I believe is Swietenia mahagoni, or West Indies Mahogany — go through its personal autumn, the questions I had about briefly deciduous swirled around in my head, much like the confetti-like leaves falling from the tree with each tropical breeze.
I contacted Mary Collins once again with my questions. She wrote to me: “Their deciduous period coincides with the driest time of year. Perhaps the loss of leaves helps to cut down on the amount of water loss or evaporation from the plant.”
My observation of the tree became a daily ritual. Each day there were the tiniest of changes — and as quickly as the leaves had turned brown and fallen, a new flush of pale, spring-like green appeared along the branches. And as Mary had said, this coincided with the weather forecasters talking more and more about increased moisture in the Florida air — the rainy season.
For some reason, I’ve done a lot of thinking about the idea of being briefly deciduous. As gardeners, there are days when dehydration takes hold and we drop — briefly — until we replenish our liquids so that we can re-bloom with gusto.
More philosophically, though — and this may have to do with my sore back (I swear I did nothing to hurt my back, other than grow another day older) — is how nice it would be to be briefly deciduous.
Many gardeners embrace winter as a time to not be tied to the garden, a time to plan, a time to nap. But this winter proved too long for many — but what if it could be, I don’t know, brief? How nice it would be to take a few short weeks off from gardening, to let down our leaves, to take a few moments to heal, and to be as good as new after a not-as-long-as-the-usual-winter rest.
I probably won’t bring up briefly deciduous in that context at the next neighborhood gathering, but, thanks to Mary, I’ll feel more confident about delving into nature’s briefly deciduous process.
Unless, of course, something goes horribly aw-ree.
A great big thank you to everyone who left a comment describing their favorite garden tools and/or garden attire. You are a well-dressed, well-equipped group of gardeners!
After placing all of the entrants into an Excel spreadsheet, and then inputting those numbers into a Random.org selector, a giveaway winner was chosen.
Congratulations to Jo, the Bloomin’ Chick behind The Portable Homestead. I will contact you via email to arrange shipping of your book.
Again, many thanks for your support!