The moisture in the air here in the Ham Lake woods today seems to move sideways across my line of vision, moving as if it had a life of its own and was not required to fall to the earth obediently. It is so light that it takes on a ghostly appearance, so that at first I think that my eyes are deceiving me.

I recall the weather folks saying one time that fog is actually only a cloud that has descended to earth, which suggests that the atmosphere around me can sustain a fair amount of moisture before it falls to earth as rain, which accounts for its ghostly movement about me today.

All of this moisture floating about suggests that this is not a doleful, unhappy day for all these plants in the forest, doleful as we humans might view it, who like sunshine and brightness. I do not know enough about botany, but I am wondering if all of those birch and poplars and oaks and pines and all of these small plants on the forest floor are not busy drinking this moisture into the pores in their leaves with a lot of happy lapping. I would have to check with the botanists on this.

My one venture into botany, as I have mentioned before, has been with cactus. And I have had one interesting experience with these pores taking in water in cactus.

In the days when I worked at NDSU, whenever we  would go to a study conference on another university campus, I would take some  free moments to visit the local herbarium, the place where they keep dead plant specimens, to see if they had any cactus. One such day on the Washington State campus I not only found such specimens, but I heard one grad student was doing cactus research.

I thought, oh, boy! Another cactophile (whatever they call us cactus lovers). I rushed to find him and when I found him in his lab, I discovered he was doing research on how to kill cactus in eastern Washington state that were running rampant in cow pastures.

For years farmers had tried all kinds of poisons and herbicides without success. No one could discover the secret of the cactus.

Now this young grad student (or his department) was discovering the secret (and I really should not tell it). Cactus only open their pores at night to drink in the moisture of the night. They close up these pores in the daytime to preserve that moisture, an adaptation in their long evolution. Farmers sprayed only in the daytime. They learned to spray at night and kill the vulnerable cactus (Sigh!)

So I expect these forest plants about me have pores as well, and they happily drink in the moisture offered on a day like today. Perhaps one day I shall learn more about this sort of thing.

James Alger, who lives in Fargo, N.D., has been a summer resident of the Leech Lake area with his family for over 45 years. Over that time he has grown to love and appreciate the people and the woodlands of this area.


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