The Great Plant Collector

Alan Bold

i.m. David Douglas, 1798-1834

Accompanied by eagles, David Douglas trecked
Through forests and rivers in search of seed.
Wet or wounded, he remained undaunted:
His roots in Scone, his crown outside.

The Indians called him ‘grassman’,
Watched him paddle his own canoe.
He went through rapids, escaped from a whirlpool,
There seemed nothing he wouldn’t do.

David Douglas, in his Stewart tartan coat,
Saw the Columbia River as a source
For trees. In 1825 he scooped
The Douglas fir, the noble fir, the Sitka spruce,

The ponderosa, the bigcone, the sugar
And the western white pines. This treasure
Went to London. ‘You will begin to think
I manufacture pines at my pleasure.’

In 1830 he was back, filling chests
With his finds. His seeds spread
His reputation as far as Russia.
He should see Siberia, the Czar said.

Setting off from Fort Vancouver
He floundered in British Columbia.
He came close to grief, wrecked his canoe,
Lost his direction and an eye.

Eighteen months later, in Hawaii,
He saw a wild bull trapped in a pit.
He fell into the trap, he was gored,
Died as his blood flooded out.

His name lives on in the Douglas fir.
Seeing one, I think of Douglas drinking tea.
I stand beneath this structure, watch
The rain make rings around his tree.