Hidden In Plain Sight

I was asked recently about the image on the cover of my new book, Backpocket Words: Sharing the Essence of English Spelling (announced under Resources, Books) 

Is that a flower, a sea creature?  What is it doing there?  I promised the story and here it is. 

This is a photograph of an Australian eucalyptus macrocarpa flower. It was taken by an Australian photographer named Andrea Deegan. You can (and should!) find her photographs at https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrea_dee. This is actually an illustration for the entry in my book entitled Eucalyptus & Apocalypse

The name of the eu+calypt+us derives from the Greek εὐ (eu), “well” and καλυπτ(ός), (kalypt(os)) “covered.” At the time that I was writing the entry, I had never seen this well-covered flower. My friend Ann Whiting, an afficionado of the Australian tree, sent me some of her photographs and I could see it here, kind of.  I was planning to use this one in the article:

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Then I started looking at photographs online and came across the gorgeous image that graces the cover of my book today.

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Now that’s “covered,” I thought! I deemed the photo too beautiful to reproduce in black and white so I put it on the cover instead. It began to feel like a visual metaphor for the backpocket words inside.

But here was the great mystery. San Francisco has hundreds, maybe thousands, of imported eucalyptus trees. They are all over the city. Yet I had never seen a eucalyptus flower. How could that be? I apparently had never asked my husband this question because one day we were driving a few blocks from home and he said “There’s one.”  And “there’s another one.”  And “another one.” Yes, friends, they were everywhere! Here’s one!

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The reason I hadn’t seen them is that I didn’t know what I was looking for. I had lumped these trees in with an entirely different species I was more familiar with, or so I thought. I didn’t know this was what a eucalyptus looked like in flower.  But now I see them – everywhere!

This is a metaphor for the work that brings us all together here. We don’t see things until we know what we’re looking for, and then they are everywhere – we can’t unsee them. Bases, prefixes, suffixes – the orthographic world unfolds before us just like the natural world does.

Pete Bowers has used this metaphor before, in a description of a school field trip. Click this link to read that story. Pete tells me it's one of his favorites.