Tag Archive 'spring wildflowers'

Apr 27 2024

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The Unfurling of Spring

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photo by Judy Ashley-McLaughlin

Late April is a glorious time of year here in northern Vermont. The snow and ice are gone in all but the highest elevations and the remote corners of the state, the trees are covered with catkins kicking out their pollen, the swollen buds of bushes are beginning to open, and the grass is greening everywhere, everywhere. Oh sure, there is still plenty of brown in the leafless forests and tilled fields, and the occasional snow flurry on colder days reminds us of winter’s recent passing. But the blazing sun is working its magic all the same.

We are well into the growing season now, even though it’s too early to break out the shorts and flip flops. Some people anxiously await those 75-degree days, resenting the rawness of the first half of spring. “Mud season,” some Vermonters call it contemptuously, but I am never as hopeful as I am this time of year. Every day brings a new development in the natural world, and directly ahead of us is the warmer half of the year and endless green.

In the mountains a little over a week ago, I tramped in cold mud next to a raging brook up to its banks in snowmelt. Walking along the Rail Trail the other day, I spotted wood frogs and clusters of their eggs in ephemeral pools. Spring peepers sing out every night from nearby wetlands; songbirds do the same during the day. Robins, blackbirds, and other migrators showed up weeks ago, and hummingbirds are not far away. Ants, mosquitoes, and scores of other insects are busy now. Worms appear whenever I scratch the soil with my rake. The resident chipmunk has come out of his burrow, running circles around me until I hand over some nuts. The sun is now up early in the morning – almost as early as I am. And it’s all happening at once!

But it’s the flowering plants that drive home the drama of endless renewal this time of year. In the wilder corners of my back yard, round-lobed hepatica and spring beauty are in bloom, along with the less obvious wild ginger. I kneel down before them for a closer look. In tamer places, a solitary pansy struts its stuff – an outrageous burst of yellow. The bright green leaves of columbine and bleeding hearts have already leafed out – the latter sporting clusters of pink and white flowers on the verge of opening. I can hardly believe my eyes…

Then yesterday late afternoon I stumbled upon a patch of purple trilliums on the forest floor, already in full bloom. I nearly swooned from it. What an incredible world this is! How fortunate to be alive! There is nothing more miraculous than the unfolding of spring, and no joy greater than being totally immersed in such fecundity. That’s what an unrepentant pantheist like me feels this time of year, anyhow.

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Apr 22 2020

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Hope Springs Eternal

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The snow flurries blowing across my yard this morning are disheartening. It’s late April and I’m in desperate need of springtime’s consolation this year, as the harsh realities of the ongoing pandemic and the related economic downturn sink in. Yesterday I finished reading The Great Influenza, which paints a dark picture of how the 1918 flu pandemic unfolded. What we are dealing with today will most likely follow a similar route, with the outbreak coming in waves over the year to come.

So far it has been an unseasonably cold April here in the northeast. More than once I have dressed for late March weather during my long, midday walks. The other day I was chilled by my own sweat while raking the yard, and the cold stung my hands as I mulched the garden. Then I spotted two tiny wildflowers – spring beauty – pushing up through the soil. Their petals had not yet unfurled but promised to do so very soon. Then I found round-lobed hepatica in full bloom, half-hidden in the detritus covering the forest floor.

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” the poet Alexander Pope wrote 300 years ago, and it still rings true. While there are always pessimists and doomsayers among us, humankind is hopeful even during the darkest times. We look for positive signs. Things will get better. It’s only a matter of time.

Those who know me well would never call me an optimist. On the contrary, I tend to focus on the darker side of human nature with a steely eye, and know all too well what the wild can do. Yet there is in springtime an undeniable reawakening, the natural world coming back to life after a long dormancy, a rebirth. It has happened every year for as long as we can remember – longer than humankind has existed. And we are in the thick of it right now, despite all diseases and disasters.

After hepatica comes an explosion of wildflowers, the trees leafing out, and everything greening. Despite the snow flurries right now, spring’s glorious unfolding is only a few days away – a fortnight at the most. Then we’ll open our windows and go barefoot again. None of this will make the pandemic or the economic downturn go away, but they’ll be a lot easier to deal with as a consequence. I’m looking forward to it.

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Apr 27 2017

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Early Spring Overnighter

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Every once in a while I feel an overwhelming urge to spend a night alone in the woods. Either that or my wife orders me to do so when I become too grumpy. Yesterday the urge came hard and fast.

My dog Matika became very excited when the backpacking gear came out. She knows. She was all smiles during the ride to Johnson. There I left my car at the Long Trail parking lot and headed south.

I like to hike the LT south from Route 15 in early spring because there’s not much I can do to damage the trail. It crosses a meadow, tags a rail trail, follows a logging road, then becomes a skidder trail as it climbs into the mountains. By the time it’s a bona fide footpath, I’ve left it and am bushwhacking along a stream.

The loggers are taking a break during mud season so I had the woods all to myself. Just me and my dog, that is.

I travelled light, only taking with me what would fit in my old rucksack. A three-mile hike put me deep into the woods. I found a nice place along the stream to make camp. Afterwards I collected wood and made a small campfire. I can sit and feed sticks into a campfire for hours. Matika likes just looking around and chewing sticks.

An hour or so after dark, I slipped beneath the tarp to sleep. Matika was already there waiting for me. The sky broke open and the stars came out. You know what that means. Radiational cooling. I froze my ass off despite the fact that temps shot into the 60s yesterday and the 70s today. But it was worth it to crawl out this morning to a sun cresting the nearby ridge, deep in the woods. The mountain stream roared endlessly. And a breakfast campfire made it easy to shrug off last night’s chill.

Hiking out, I found a small patch of spring beauty, then a purple trillium in bloom – one that had still been closed the day before. Ah, spring! Matika crossed paths with a red fox that vanished in the blink of an eye. Something for both of us.

 

 

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