California poppies

Five Bay Area girls went for a stroll through our beloved redwoods. We grew up in, respectively, El Cerrito, Berkeley, San Leandro, San Francisco, & Mill Valley (heh). As we were remarking on the rarity of being in such extremely local company, Mrs. Art Stove told us how she recently confronted some out-of-towner who had picked a California poppy from a neighbors’ front yard. “I couldn’t believe she picked a California poppy! & then she was twirling it around, & every time she twirled it, it was like she was twisting a dagger in my heart!” Mrs. Art Stove confronted the woman, informed her of the illegality of her actions, & asked her to Please Stop Twirling That Poppy!

Listening to this story, my other friends all nodded with complete sympathy & understanding, until I timidly ventured, “wait… is that really illegal? How come I’ve never heard that?” Four pairs of shocked native Californian eyes turned upon me. What?! You didn’t know it’s illegal!?

Things like this always confirm one of my more insidious suspicions: that there are certain important bits of information that everyone knows except me, & nobody tells me because they assume I must already know. Like the time (years ago, but the trauma remains fresh) I was wandering around Oakland Chinatown with Chinese Scholar & the Witch, wondering where we should eat, & they said, well we could always go to Vi’s, & I said “What’s Vi’s?” whereupon they both looked at me as if I’d said I didn’t know you could get to San Francisco by crossing the Bay Bridge. They felt so sorry for me that they practically carried me straight into Vi’s & of course I loved it, but then too soon after that it closed & I never got to eat there again. Alas!

Anyway, back to the poppies: seeing how mortified I was, & not wanting to make me feel worse, my friends quickly recovered from their shock & patiently informed me that there is a huge fine if you’re caught picking poppies, because it’s the state flower & even though it’s not endangered now, it used to be, & so on & so forth. I said, “but even from your own garden? I mean, I would never pick a wild one, it just wouldn’t occur to me…” See! they said, this just confirms that you actually know you’re not supposed to, you have the correct instinct & you’ve just forgotten the details!

Still bewildered, I continued, “I’ve picked a poppy that I grew in my own yard…” to which Mrs. Art Stove replied, “but you probably cooed over it & admired it & respected it & put it in water & made a painting of it, you didn’t Just Twirl It Around!”

So it went, & eventually we talked of other things. But I remained quite disturbed, not to mention skeptical about not being allowed to pick a specific flower that wouldn’t have existed if I didn’t plant it in my own garden. As you might expect, I have now done a little googling, & am almost just as bewildered to find that my very smart pals have been had by a myth! The law actually prohibits cutting any plant from a highway, but says nothing about California poppies specifically, let alone ones growing in your own yard.

See, I thoughtMrs. Terwilliger would have drummed it into my head if I wasn’t allowed to pick poppies! By the way, speaking of Mrs. T & childhood environmental education, am I the only person who still snips those plastic rings from soda cans? It’s actually a very satisfying thing to do on many levels, not just environmentally: the plastic is a pleasurable consistency for cutting, there are just the right number & variety of holes to make the job interesting but also very quick (we’re talking seconds), & I always make a little game (not a very challenging one, but I get my thrills where I can) of making the fewest cuts necessary while ending up with a whole piece, no loose bits.

I’m still kinda anxious about the fact that I had never even heard of this poppy myth before. What if it had turned out to be true? Once at a pie-baking party, someone said, “I didn’t know you could keep butter in the freezer.” I was astonished. I never in a zillion years would have thought I should go around telling people they can put their butter in the freezer. I started wondering what kinds of things I might not know that she would consider obvious—so obvious that she wouldn’t realize she had to tell me. Somehow I have to let go of this way of thinking before it drives me completely nuts.