Tag Archive 'wildflowers'

Jun 17 2013

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Enough for Now

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lush forestYesterday Judy and I went for a walk around Aldis Hill. Our dog Matika came with us, of course. There was rain in the forecast so we wasted no time getting out of the house. We knew we wouldn’t be in the mood to go anywhere once it started.

The early morning mosquitoes were there to greet us. We did our best to ignore them, focusing upon the lush forest instead. Recent rains have brought all the vegetation to life. I can’t remember the last time the woods looked this green.

Judy skirted the mud holes; Matika went right through them. I did something in between. One’s attitude towards mud often reflects one’s beastliness. I’m not quite sure why.

Daisies and buttercups were in full bloom on the grassy top of the Hard’ack ski slope we crossed, but the wildflowers that cover the forest floor in late spring were nearly gone. With the Summer Solstice only a few days away, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. That said, I am always amazed by how quickly the warm season goes by. There’s not a day to be wasted.

Lately I’ve been too busy promoting my new book, The Allure of Deep Woods, to get into the mountains as much as I like this time of year. In lieu of deep woods, I slip away to nearby pockets of wildness whenever I can. There is something ironic about this to be sure. No matter. Aldis Hill and places like it are enough for now.

 

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May 23 2013

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Wet and Wild

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spring bushwhackInstead of hiking a well-maintained trail as planned, I changed my mind yesterday morning and opted for a bushwhack along a favorite mountain brook. Glad I did. A great weight lifted from my shoulders the moment I stepped into the trackless forest.

A carpet of foamflower in full bloom was there to greet me. The mountain brook, bank-full from the previous night’s storm, roared nearby. The intoxicating smell of ozone and raw earth hung thickly in the air. And when a vireo called out, its wildly undulating song filling the trees, I too felt like singing.

The dripping understory soaked my pants. Soon my shirt was damp with sweat. I crossed the brook several times to avoid the mudslides on steep slopes, thereby drenching my boots. After tramping for an hour and a half, I knelt down beside the brook and dunked my head to cool off. Then I was wet from head to toe.

I howled with delight as my eyes drank in the brilliant green world surrounding me.  I reveled in the wildness of it all – the mud, the bugs, unfurling ferns, rotting wood and leaf litter, moss-covered stones, songbirds, wildflowers and all the rest. I was crazy happy, or was it only the ozone going to my head?

Springtime in the Green Mountains. It doesn’t get much better than this. I hiked out a much healthier man.

 

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Apr 27 2013

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Early Bloom

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Dutchman's breechesThe forest in April is mostly brown – naked trees, downed branches, patches of cold mud, and bleached leaf litter. My eyes hunger for green. The moss on exposed rock and conifers provide a little color, as do the evergreen ferns still pressed to the ground. But it is fresh verdure that I desire, and the small, delicate wildflowers that arise with it. Therein lies the promise of things to come.

Round-lobed hepatica is the first to bloom. I found the first of that wildflower in a brilliant green patch of wild leeks a week ago. I found it again a few days ago on Aldis Hill, and again while tramping around Niquette Bay. In late April, it seems to be everywhere.

Bloodroot and trilliums have pushed up from the earth, yet their flowers remain closed. It’s as if they don’t trust the season. Spring beauty is much more optimistic. Its tiny, candy-striped flowers appear suddenly one day. I drop to all fours to inhale its sweet perfume and am transformed – the last of winter passing out of me.

But it is always Dutchman’s breeches that take me by surprise. Those clusters of little, creamy pantaloons arise overnight from patches of green leaves growing in the ledges. They are forever maturing, but once they’re here, many other wildflowers soon follow. Already blue cohosh and early meadow rue are unfurling, and the mottled leaves of trout lilies are ubiquitous. Soon saxifrage will appear in the rocks. Soon marsh marigolds will illuminate the low, wet places. Already coltsfoot shines yellow from the dusty roadside ditches. The season is much more advanced than my green-starved eyes are willing to admit.

No matter how carefully I follow the advance of early spring, I always underestimate it. Like most people living in northern climes, I’m impatient this time of year. I so badly want the trees overhead to leaf out that I miss a good deal of what is happening at ground level. Only when I am prone on the forest floor do I fully appreciate it. The earth is brown, yes, yet very much alive.

 

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Apr 18 2013

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Vernal Pools

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frogsYesterday I went into the woods searching for the sights and sounds of spring. I wasn’t disappointed. Despite naked trees and the conspicuous absence of green, woodpeckers telegraphed their desires, ruffed grouse drummed, and a chorus of spring peepers announced the beginning of the season.

I went searching for vernal pools and found them in likely places – slight depressions in the forest floor where snowmelt collects this time of year, where small colonies of frogs magically appear to croak away any remnant of winter.

I knelt down next to a pool oblivious to the cool dampness still in the earth, and watched the frogs swim about. The water’s surface rippled every time the frogs sprang forth. They croaked alarm to each other regarding my presence then went about their amphibious business unperturbed. I wasn’t a threat as long as I didn’t move.

A bit later, on a south-facing slope soaking up the sun, I found a patch of wild leeks flaunting their verdure. I tore off the tip of one and chewed it. The pungent flavor was both familiar and heartwarming. Then I spotted them: small patches of round-lobed hepatica in bloom among the leeks. Their delicate petals burst forth atop fuzzy stems curling away from the earth. The first wildflower of the year was emerging so early I could hardly believe it.

I left the woods feeling a little giddy. I get that way every time the wild takes me by surprise. I went searching for spring and found more than I could have hoped for. After all these years, you’d think I would have it figured out by now. But there’s something about the natural world that’s eternally new, especially on days like these.

 

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Jun 09 2012

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A Little Less Than Wild

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For a walk like this, I don’t even bother putting on boots. Street shoes will do. The Rail Trail is so flat and easy to negotiate that I could wear flip flops if I wanted.

This is my third outing on the Rail Trail this week. I’ve been busy writing and working so the convenience of it has won out over any urge to wildness. Besides, the bloom of wildflowers has moved from the forest to the fields and I’m in the mood to groove on it.

Cow vetch, buttercups, red clover, and daisies populate the waist-high timothy along the edge if the trail, along with a host of less obvious wildflowers. I am intoxicated by the smell of them as I amble along slowly.  It is the distinct smell of early summer.

Robins, swallows and blackbirds shoot across the trail as I walk.  A gentle breeze rustles the deep green leaves of overhanging trees. Grass sways in the nearby fields, beneath a partly cloudy sky. Long rows of young corn, only a few inches high, add a sense of order to the muddy chaos of plowed fields. It’s a country scene and, for an hour or so, I am a countryman.

What is it about early summer that makes us so happy? Is it all the lush vegetation, the relaxed pleasure of being outdoors, or the promise of several months of easy living? Perhaps it’s best not to question it.  Simply be in the moment instead.

Next week I’ll grab my rucksack and head for the hills. But for now, in the cusp between springtime and summer, it’s enough to walk through a landscape that’s a little less than wild. The deep woods can wait.

 

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Apr 28 2012

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100-year-old Tree

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Despite the specks of white tumbling from an overcast sky, I went for a hike up Aldis Hill. I had the place all to myself, of course. No one else was foolish enough to come out on such a nasty day.

Shortly after entering the woods, I noticed a big, old maple near the trail – one I hadn’t seen before. Then I kept moving. I was more interested in early spring wildflowers and knew just where to find them.

Amid a pile of large rocks, I spotted the leaves of bloodroot. The petals had been blown clear by the strong April wind. Just beyond the rocks, wild ginger. Trilliums, violets and blue cohosh bloomed along the flat section of trail between the lookout and the summit. Near the summit, I visited a thick patch of Dutchman’s breeches surrounded by trout lilies, hepatica and spring beauty. I got down on my knees and snorted the fragrant spring beauty the last time I was here.  Good thing I did so. Today they were closed tight against the weather.

I looked around for more wildflowers while finishing my hike but nothing new cropped up. That’s when I started thinking about that big, old maple I had passed earlier. How long had it been there? Why was it still standing? More to the point: Why hadn’t I noticed it before?  I gave it a quick nod before leaving the woods.

A half hour later, I returned to Aldis Hill to take a picture of that tree. I stretched my arms around its trunk to measure its girth. I couldn’t reach halfway around the giant. Stepping back, I took a good, long look at it. The tree had to be a hundred years old at the very least. And still going strong. I shook my head, wondering what else I hadn’t seen in this small pocket of woods during my countless walks here. Sometimes, I swear, it feels like I’m sleepwalking – even when my eyes are wide open.

 

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Jun 29 2011

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Newcomer

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I looked in the dark, weedy corner of my back yard the other day and noticed that a newcomer had appeared.  The small, purple flower wasn’t anything I’d seen before, I couldn’t find it in my flower identification books, and I had no idea where it had come from.  And, quite frankly, I didn’t care.  Beautiful in all its delicate simplicity, its migration to my rough flowerbed had been a true act of wildness – what my so-called wildflower garden is all about.

As a three-year experiment, my wildflower garden has been something of a disappointment.  I expected an explosion of lush, floral wildness, but got a patchy, hardscrabble, weed-ridden plot instead.  By comparison, the domestic flowerbed in my front yard is a riot of color and beauty – carefully attended to by you-know-who.

I hacked the belligerent bindweed from the backyard garden, removed the timothy, maple saplings and unsightly dandelions, and cast bags of wildflower seeds into the plot, but to no avail.  At long last, I have agreed with my wife that it’s time to till it all over, and carefully cultivate the garden from scratch.  But I will miss the occasional newcomer.

Earlier this year, a patch of forget-me-nots broke into bloom amid the weeds.  Again, a newcomer from god-knows-where.  It has happened before, and I’m sure it would happen again if I left well enough alone.  But the hand of the cultivator is rarely idle, is it?

There is a lesson in all this, I’m sure, but I think I’ll just leave it hanging and let you, dear reader, draw your own conclusions.  After all, any legitimate philosophy of the wild is rooted in precisely that which is left unspoken.

 

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Jun 12 2011

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Summer Bloom

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The wildflowers that grow along roads and in fallow fields are easy to ignore.  It is the warm season, after all, and we are exuberant with baseball, beaches and a vast array of other summertime activities.  But the bloom has moved now from canopied forests to open places awash in sunlight.  Now the green is punctuated with tiny splashes of yellow, pink, blue and a dozen other dazzling hues.

It’s a subtle beauty to be sure – the stuff of impromptu bouquets given to mothers by their children.  One can walk along a recreational trail for twenty minutes before really noticing them.  But see one and hundreds suddenly appear, no, thousands.  Thick patches of birdsfoot trefoil and clover at one’s feet, bright yellow and orange hawkweed here and there, tangles of dewberry, and the ubiquitous buttercup – they all vie for our attention.  Summer’s bright, happy palette is everywhere, half-hidden in timothy bent over by a steady, warm breeze.  Bladderwort hugs the trail’s gravely edges.  Cow vetch lurks in the background.  Daisies steal the show.

When I walk in the open this time of year, I marvel at nature’s diversity.  The forest is just as fecund as the field, but the field flaunts it.  The untended places drenched with high sun allow plants to go crazy.  Ferns, moss and other lifeforms may creep relentlessly across the damp forest floor, but in the meadows biomass explodes.  Feel the heat that all these plants generate on a hot day and there’s no doubt in your mind that life pulsates on this planet.  Butterflies, dragonflies and countless other insects go about their business in these roofless hothouses.  Step into it and you come out covered in pollen and seeds.  Yeah, the wild fields are like that in June.  And they will only grow more intense as the season progresses.

It is easy to be awed by snow-capped mountains, roiling seas and blazing sunsets, but the power and glory of nature lies in the tiny flowers that we hardly notice at all – the ones whose names we forget or confuse with others, the ones that can only be appreciated with a magnifying glass.  Herein lies irrefutable proof that the wild will persist no matter what.  Herein lies the true genius of the ordered chaos that is Nature.  An hourlong walk this time of year reaffirms my pantheism.  God is in all things, surely.  What other explanation can there possibly be for such overabundance?  The fields full of wildflowers echo the chorus sung by billions of stars in the night sky.  Both the universe and the world we inhabit are absolutely teeming with possibility.

 

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Apr 27 2011

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The First Wildflower

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A few days ago, while hiking Aldis Hill, I noticed that several wildflowers were on the verge of blooming.  Some them can take more than a week to open.  Bloodroot and trilliums are a good example of this.  But round-lobed hepatica, a humble member of the buttercup family, usually opens right away.  So I went looking for it yesterday despite the rain.

At Judy’s suggestion, I went to Niquette Bay State Park.  It’s a good place to hunt for wildflowers this time of year.  It’s right on Lake Champlain where Vermont’s northern climate is slightly milder.  Dog friendly, too, which is good for Matika.  Midweek, raining, and early in the morning, I was certain to have the place to myself.  That sold me on it.  I went.

I noticed trilliums right away, but they weren’t open yet.  A few Dutchman’s breeches had taken form, but they were still green.  Patches of mottled green leaves caught my eye, but the trout lilies they sport were nowhere in sight.  Not yet.  I saw spring beauty drooping and closed against the rain.  Then I found them, amid moss-covered rocks – the first wildflowers of the season pushing up through the forest duff: hepatica.

To those of us who love all things green and growing, who simply endure winter, few things are more joyous than the first wildflowers of early spring.  What a relief to see them.  A smile broke involuntarily across my face while hungry eyes fell upon their delicate petals.  A woodpecker knocked nearby, a hermit thrush sang in the distance, and insects buzzed about.  No matter.  The first wildflower of the season is what turned me.  The world is reborn!

With my wife’s old camera, a great improvement over the cheap one I’ve been using the past year, I snapped several pictures of the tiny flower.  I didn’t mind lying on the wet, muddy earth while doing so.  In fact, I rather enjoyed it.  Then I went down to the water’s edge to ponder matters great and small before moving on.  Matika chewed a stick to pieces while I sat there.  Then we both finished the hike wet, wild and happy.

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Mar 09 2011

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Trout Dreams

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A big winter storm struck northern Vermont two days ago, dumping two feet of snow.  That’s the third largest dump on record for these parts, making this the third snowiest winter.  Or something like that.  I spent the better part of yesterday shoveling and roof raking, and that was after the plow guy had cleared my driveway twice.  Yeah, a lot of white stuff.

Right now it’s sunny outside, about twelve hours before the next storm strikes.  I should grab my snowshoes and take advantage of this break in the weather.  But that’s not where my heart lies.  Last night I dreamed of a mountain stream teeming with large, wild trout.  And this morning, well, let’s just say the view out my window doesn’t match the fantasy.

Stepping outdoors for a moment to start up my wife’s car, I hear a cardinal singing loudly from atop a leafless maple.  He’s thinking the same thing I’m thinking.  And the warm morning sun assures us both that spring can’t be that far away.  But all this snow . . . egads!

Judy and I have a late-winter ritual: when the snow is deep outside, we cook and eat the last of the trout that I brought home the previous summer.  Granted, I’m mostly a catch-and-release fisherman these days, but I make sure to bring home a few of them just for this occasion.  We ate the trout a couple weeks ago.  And that’s just about the time I started yearning for the warm season.

This morning I opened the newspaper and learned that the writer/naturalist John Hay just died.  This news sent me to my bookshelves right away.  I cracked open The Immortal Wilderness where I had it bookmarked and reread this:  “Behind the world so recklessly and uncertainly claimed by politics and economics lie the magic and inexorable laws of the wilderness, known to every life.  The flower is wiser than the machine.”  My sentiments exactly.  So now I’m dreaming of wildflowers as well as trout.  Right now I don’t give a damn about the government’s budgetary problems, the health care debacle, or the price of oil.  I just want to see a brook trout and a purple trillium again.

Is this cabin fever talking?  You bet it is.  But there’s no sense stewing in it.  So I’ll strap on my snowshoes and make the best of the situation.  My dog Matika is ready to roll.  Unlike me, she lives in the moment.  She will romp in the snow as if it’s the first powder of the season.  And I will follow, somewhat reluctantly, dreaming of spring.

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