In the freshman composition class the assigned reading was Loren Eiseley’s “How Flowers Changed the World,” and the education was proceeding at a normal pace. Eiseley’s prose is college-level, and the freshmen were on their way to being college-level readers.
But Eiseley’s vocabulary also refers itself to a college-level science. “How Flowers Changed the World” originates in botany — specifically in the botanical idea that flowers are sex organs. The moment we got to Eiseley’s enunciation of the idea, there was a sudden loud noise. It came apropos, for the climax of Eiseley’s essay is another loud noise.
The noise that woke Eiseley in the middle of the night was the snapping report of a seed pod explosively discharging its seeds. For me and my drowsy students the noise was a scream.
It was coming from a girl in the class, and it had words explosively punctuated. The explosion went:
“Flowers are SEX ORGANS?!”
“What did you think they are?” I Socratically replied.
And then the girl said, in the intonation pattern known as uptalk, ” . . . For decoration?”
This conversation took place a very long time ago — in the 1980s, I believe. But it has stayed with me as one of the happiest moments of my life as a teacher. In memory of that memory, then, this.
(Data for the waking mind:
(On October 19, 1924, the newly constructed zeppelin LZ126 leaves Friedrichshafen, Germany, bound across the Atlantic to Lakehurst, New Jersey, where it will be commissioned in the U.S. Navy as USS Los Angeles and then become the subject of the “Cape Hatteras” section of Hart Crane’s The Bridge. Image postprocessed from a newspaper photograph.)