Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Saprobe

Saprobe: There are two kinds of saprobes, discovered independently in the 18th century; although some scholars posit that a Woodland Indians tradition hearkens back one or two minutes earlier. The odoriferous Vermont variety of saprobe comes from (or one might say, “gloms” from) the congealed sap of the sugar maple tree, while the Georgia variety, a much stickier yet more durable resinous robe, derives from the coagulated sap of the Georgia pine tree. Adopted by trappers, loggers and syrup makers, the saprobe provided warmth and protection during frosty winters and served as mosquito, gnat and fly attractants during the sultry months. Unfortunately, bears, cougars, hawks, crows, and skunks found the clothing unspeakably gorgeous, which eventually led to its discontinuance, however for a time North America featured some nattily dressed animals.

Lemuel Bassington began his life as a fur trapper. Let me back up. He didn’t actually begin his life as a fur trapper. As an infant he was unable to trap fur-bearing animals, although he had good luck with grasshoppers. But by the age of ten he was a working man, complete with matted beard, coonskin hat and more than a pinch of snuff. This was back in the olden days, sometime around 1750. He roamed the colonies, trapping furs (the actual animals got away), subsisting on bitter berries, stringent barks and stump water, but by the time he was twenty years old, he needed a change. He’d discovered the benefits of pine gum and spruce gum and abandoned snuff for gum, which wasn’t too hard on his teeth since he no longer had any (he was begummed). He decided to set up a chewing gum business and began harvesting Georgia pines for their copious sap. One bright morning, after rolling the gum out in sheets, he allowed it to sun dry. Wrapping the finished product around his torso, he found it both flexible and malleable and then extremely difficult to disrobe. Experimenting, he fashioned a pair of trousers, only to find himself attached to the stump he was sitting on, unable to move. He sliced the trousers off with his long knife and tried again, this time creating a warm and completely unfuzzy robe.

Wandering through the forest, he collected gum samples and other fruits of the trees, and the robe collected acorns and pinecones and seeds, slowing him down considerably. Still, he thought he was onto something. One day he met an old man traveling in the opposite direction. He was startled to see that the geezer was wearing an almost identical robe, only it exuded a flavorful sweet smell. “Howdy, old fella,” Lemuel said. “Where in tarnation did you get that thingamabob.”

“I ain’t tellin’ you, youngster. I ain’t tellin’. I made this thingamajig myself back yonder a ways in Vermont.”

“I thought you ain’t tellin’.”

“Well I ain’t. I ain’t tellin’ you where in Vermont. It’s back around Prattleboro in the Green Mountains nestled in a forest grove where they tap sap for maple syrup.”

The old man passed by, but not before hurling a newfangled waffle at Lemuel, which stuck to his robe. He’d heard awhile back from an old fur trapping buddy, via passenger pigeon, that there was a lot of saps in Vermont. Since that was the entire message, he wasn’t sure if his pal meant the goo from trees or that there were a lot of sentimental fools living there. He decided to mosey on over to Vermont. Moseying meant that it took him a couple of years to arrive there, laden down with pine saprobes and assorted tree detritus. One day he came upon a grove of maple trees and people with wooden buckets attached. Let me back up again. These buckets hung from the trees, not the people. Each person, however, wore a sweet smelling saprobe. Lemuel thought and pondered and then pondered and thought. Could he combine the best features of the pine saprobe and the maple saprobe to create an even more effective saprobe? After days of experimentation, this proved to be true. But the new and improved super-duper saprobe, which was both a feast for the eyes and nose and even stomach, depending on your digestive system, attracted numerous fashion plates among the animal kingdom and Lemuel spent the rest of his life captive in a rabbit burrow deep in the woods of mountainous Vermont, only a saprobic legend to the wider world.

Saprobe actually refers to a saprobic organism, one which dines on deceased or decaying organic matter, tending toward an environment as free from oxygen as possible.

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