Looking Up

Someone (I think it was my daughter) passed on this wise advice for tourists: Don’t forget to look up. Many of us, when overwhelmed by magnificent architecture or unfamiliar surroundings, tend to look down and around, whether we’re making sure we don’t stumble or admiring a Roman pavement, examining carved woodwork or taking in a scenic vista, while some of the most glorious sights may be above our heads. This is especially true in the case of classical architecture. The Lady Chapel of King Henry VII at Westminster Abbey has the most spectacular fan vaulting I’ve ever seen. A mirror is placed flat on a pedestal in the center of the chapel to help visitors admire its intricate tracery without getting dizzy. One also must look up to see the unique crests and banners of the Knights of the Bath and, partially concealed behind the banners, 95 medieval statues of saints. In a venue such as this, it is natural to look up, but one doesn’t always remember to do this outdoors, especially when bent on getting from Point A to Point B. (This is even more true if it is raining, which it was most of the time we were in England; getting a faceful of rain is something you try to avoid.)

When walking, I wear a hat with a brim, to keep the sun out of my eyes when it’s sunny and, if it should start to sprinkle, to keep the rain off my glasses. So I tend not to look up much. Today, however, after yesterday’s researches, suspecting that the mysterious blossoms might have fallen from a vine, I did look up. Sure enough, twined around the trunk and among the upper branches of the pine tree was a vine with clusters of three or more of these orangey blossoms. I picked up a fresh one to bring home, planning to google “orange honeysuckle” (a term I’d run across yesterday, though it seemed very unlikely since these flowers have no fragrance at all and certainly don’t seem to promise much in the way of nectar) and “trumpet vine,” a phrase I thought I’d heard somewhere.

First, however, I dragged out my Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers: Eastern Region. This guide is useless for identifying the flowers I see in people’s gardens, but since it seemed to me unlikely that anyone had planted this vine on purpose, I thought there was a chance it was a “wildflower.” Fortunately, the guide is organized by color and shape, and I very quickly located “trumpet creeper,” with a color photograph that unmistakably matched my sample. Sure enough, googling for “trumpet vine” or “trumpet creeper” produced many similar photos, including one from the Encyclopedia Britannica (which I reproduce here), which describes the flower thus: “The petals of the delicate flower of Campsis radicans (trumpet creeper, or trumpet vine) form a corolla tube with five spreading lobes. A shortened calyx tube covers the base of the flower.”

So, one puzzle solved. There remains yet another. I still haven’t identified the mystery room in the house under construction a few blocks away—the one that isn’t a pantry or utility room but may be an office (albeit rather short of electrical outlets for that, in my opinion). Somewhere recently I’d run across a description of a new house as having space reserved for an elevator. This is becoming increasingly common in an area where many retirees are building two-story homes they’d like to stay in as long as possible. Although a stretch, it occurred to me that perhaps that might be at least part of the function of the mystery room, so I thought I’d “look up” to see. Alas, no, the ceiling was full of ductwork, wiring, plumbing, etc. So that theory was a bust.

On the way home I ran into a building contractor I frequently stop to chat with, and I mentioned this mystery. He was intrigued, saying he hadn’t been through that house yet, but he said he would have to go check it out. I’ll be interested in his conclusions!

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