RALPH BARTHOLDT: Sticktights, brambles, seed dispersal and a guy named Velcro

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Ralph Bartholdt

A burdock plant grows at the edge of my yard in a spot of sun where the dog likes to lay.

It is almost as tall as I, and its curly leaves are brown like the coat on a retriever.

I could root out the invasive plant, but I don’t.

It is a lesson in seed dispersal, and it reminds me of Velcro.

I met him decades ago when I was 30 feet up a Sitka spruce tree with the steel spur strapped to my boot precariously slipping from the bark. I wrestled a 60-pound Skookum brush block with one hand and 3/4-inch cable with the other. A Husqvarna chain saw dangled like an oily pendulum from my belt, threatening to pull me from my perch.

“Need some help?” I heard someone say.

My reply isn’t noteworthy.

The small man with the frizzy hair springing from beneath a blaze orange, logger’s tin hat was, however, worthy of consideration.

He had been sent up the hill by the siderod of the logging show I worked, and now stood in a patch of brush on the ground below me, looking up with owl-like fascination.

He was lean and dressed in the garb of lumberjacks at the time. His rigging jeans were stagged below the knee, held up by red suspenders, his cotton gloves were new, and because it was early in the day, a still-clean railroader shirt was tucked inside his trousers. A golf ball bulge of tobacco threatened to bust from his lower lip.

“Looks like you got yourself into a pickle,” he pined.

He called himself Velcro and I got to know him pretty well, since we were a small crew, and he liked to help me string blocks in trees to keep the lines off the ground, and with other sundry tasks that kept him from the rigging, which is the working end of a logging show.

And I learned how he got his name.

Because he was a tramp logger, one whose wanderlust usually kicked in after his second or third payday, Velcro had the opportunity to work in a variety of camps throughout the archipelago.

He left each experience with a new nickname, something a legal team calls an alias.

In the last camp from which he tramped, Velcro explained, he found himself in the path of impending calamity when a log deck hurled loose from the log landing on a hill above him, so he slammed himself into the earth as if he were dirt.

When the disaster passed, a logger who had watched from the safety of a loading machine, said in the wake of the thundering logs, the slight, owl-eyed man had made himself small as a seed pod. Velcro had stuck hard and tight to the ground like a bur.

A moniker was born.

Which brings us to seed dispersal and the burdock plant at the edge of the yard where the pointer likes to lay.

Back when I hunted more and was usually accompanied by a sniffing dog of questionable heritage, the two of us would return from the field with a shotgun bouncing in the back seat and the dog bouncing along in the front. As I drove, we picked burs, sticktights and bramblefidgets from our napes, hocks, socks, and any place we could reach or chew.

It was a meticulous business requiring a modicum of dexterity as I watched the road, while the dog just gnawed the seeds from his fur.

On one of those return trips, it dawned on me that I was acting as a vehicle to transfer weed seeds from far away fencerows and railroad rights-of-way to my own semi-manicured backyard.

By then, scientists and entrepreneurs had already latched on to this idea and had marketed it to clothing companies. By recreating with polymers, the hooks and teeth of burs and bramblefidgets, these scions of the business and science world had invented Velcro.

Sticktights picked from the neck of the dog are often an inevitable part of the post-bird hunting experience.

Hunters call them bad luck, as in, “Hanson’s wheat patch has got more burdocks than birds.”

Whereas, to many outdoor enthusiasts, Velcro is a good thing.

Aside from the noise, it makes when you’re adjusting your pack in a tree stand, it’s pretty OK stuff.

The people I knew who went by the name of Velcro were neither bad nor good, just few.

There was really just the one, who could grow on you until his wanderlust had him dispersed elsewhere.

Velcro is personified in some way by the weed growing along the fence in the sun where the pointer likes to lay.

• • •

Ralph Bartholdt can be reached at rbartholdt@cdapress.com.

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