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Typical Day

The only thing typical in the botanist's day is the certainty of dealing with plant life—often in the form of bosses and co-workers.

But no one was bugging Dr. Venus "Flytrap" Petridish this morning, except real bugs and real bad weather. It's 9 in the morning, and already it's 95 degrees in the shade—humid. And phalanxes of flying cockroaches are dive-bombing onto her collecting bag.

Venus has been trudging through the bayou since the crack of dawn in search of a shrub native to Louisiana, the bog spicebush. Following protocol, she notes the official name in her logbook—Lindera subcoriacea, a member of the laurel family.

Venus sighs and pulls out SPF 50 sunscreen and slathers it all over exposed body parts. She is the expert in bog-dwelling plant species, and her soggy specialty has taken her all over the globe in search of rare, waterlogged flora. One year it was Costa Rica, where on a rare beach excursion, she was almost swept out to sea by a riptide. Another year it was the Florida Everglades, where an alligator nipped her.

This job does have its hazards, Venus reminds herself. But she is not people person, and botany is perfect for her, the introvert. Life is good. She has tenure. She has her own lab. She solos on her scientific expeditions.

Now if she could only spot a bog spicebush. She needs it for her study of bog-dwelling fruits (oh, yes, the spicebush does have fruit in the fall, but that's another story).

Okay, the bog spicebush flowers in mid-March. Today is March 15. Where the heck is that dang deciduous shrub with leaves that are glossy on top and pale and hairy below?

Hey! Venus sniffs the air, and among the odors of rotting tree trunks and dead nutria, she detects a faint lemon scent. Taking out her binoculars, she points them in the direction of the scent and there it is, straight ahead. Too bad she has to wade through murky, green algae-tinged water to get to the shrub.

Onward. Venus puts on her waders and sloshes over to the big, multi-branched shrub that’s made its home in a bed of squishy peat moss.

Cute, Venus whispers. She tickles a leaf. She's happy now. Pulling out her pruner, Venus snips off part of a branch. You are beautiful, Venus purrs to the mute plant. She takes out her hand lens to get a closer look at the fine, supple hairs of the leaves. The cut end of the branch emits a delicate lemon-piney scent. Venus breathes deeply, luxuriating in the aroma that reminds her of Pine-Sol.

Into the collecting bag the branch goes, and out comes the logbook. Venus notes the time, nature of the plant, geographic grid, and other details pertinent to her study. Onto more shrubs for the rest of the day.