Consider the wildflowers

When I was asked on a recent survey to name some “best practices” for coping with the coronavirus restrictions, I was tempted to respond: “looking for wildflowers.”

Thanks to the initiative of “Mrs. D,” a teacher friend who would take her second-grade students on wildflower outings, I was introduced years ago to a pastime that has both delighted and occupied me for many springs. Mrs. D’s gift of an Audubon Field Guide to North American Wildflowers, now well-thumbed and filled with markers, taught me how to identify the flowers that have become the focus of one of my cherished spring rituals.

Spring Beauty

True to its name, Spring Beauty heralds the arrival of the season we long for all winter.

Trillium blooms come in a variety of different colors. This deep-hued one caught my eye.

Making these discoveries on my own, by studying the Audubon guide’s pictures and descriptions of leaves, petals, height, flowering time, habitat, and range, connected me to the flora of the woods in a way that deepened my observations.

This year, I have appreciated this annual diversion even more because it has redirected my thoughts from the fear and anxiety that swirl around us. Amazingly, it seemed, the wildflowers still came up this year, oblivious to any sense of danger or foreboding, and I happily joined them as they made their 2020 debut.

By the time our governor issued his first stay-at-home order March 23, I was noticing the emergence of the foliage of Spring Beauty, one of the earliest wildflowers to appear in the woods where I look for these end-of-winter harbingers. About two weeks later, I saw my first Spring Beauty bloom along with flowers on another early bloomer – Purple Cress.

After that, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I would be seeing Dutchman’s Breeches, Common Blue and Yellow Violets, Swamp Buttercup, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Wild Oats, Trillium, Phlox, Mayapple, Wild Geranium, and Wild Ginger.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit has been abundant this year.

Swamp Buttercup is known for its glossy flowers.

Although the first sighting of one of these flowers is always exciting, there’s nothing like seeing a drift of them at their peak when they carpet the floor of the woods. The vision of this seasonal show in full flower is all the better when I have seen it emerge from the dreary brown leaves of March and unfold into something quietly spectacular in April and May.

Whether I glance or gaze at the display, I’m often reminded of that familiar verse from the Bible about the lilies of the field. “They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was adorned like one of these.” Those words from the gospel of Luke are part of a passage telling us not to worry about our lives, what we will eat or drink, about our bodies, and what we will wear. It seems incredibly relevant for these days when so many of us have been and are worried about all those things and more because of the coronavirus. Spring’s wildflowers remind me each year that something incredibly beautiful in this world happens without my planning, my effort, my toil, or my worrying. This year, they are fulfilling that purpose to an even greater extent by prompting me to recall how the passage about the lilies ends: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping faith when spring is late

Image Spring is here, or so the keepers of time tell us.  We have passed that notch in the calendar when light and darkness are given us in equal measure. Winter is past and we can breathe a collective sigh of relief and begin to enjoy longer days and the sight and smell of things getting about the business of growing. For now, though, that is only a hope, and what we see is not quite what we’ve been awaiting. The landscape is little more than a palette of various hues of brown. The remaining snow has lost its brilliance and is tinged with dirt. And the ground, whether covered with matted leaves or heaving up in a kind of awakening, is, well, muddy. It would be tempting, after the long wait for spring, to sink into disappointment, especially when the weather warms briefly and then turns cold, or brings us more snow. Yet, a late-arriving spring like this one has something to offer and, if we’re smart, we will befriend it and let it walk us slowly into the richness of the season. Now is a time of preparation for what is to come, to gaze on the stark canvas around us before it begins to burst into color and growth. After all, when it does, life will get very busy, not only in the natural world, but in our lives. Activity will ramp up as schedules swell with graduations, weddings, and ball games. Homeowners will frantically pull out coolers and grills, uncover deck furniture, and fuel lawnmowers for the first of many cuts of the season. Gardeners will feel an urgency to ready their beds and plant even as the local greenhouses warn them to heed the frost-free date. Wildflower and bird enthusiasts, knowing they have a small window to see Dutchman’s Breeches and migrating warblers, will rush to converge on wildlife areas armed with guidebooks and cameras.Image So, much as I’m longing for sun, warmth, and the sight of a Swamp Buttercup or a Black-throated Blue warbler, I’m taking a pause on these chilly, doesn’t-feel-like-spring-yet days. I’m contemplating the mud, knowing it could be nesting mortar for Eastern Phoebes if they choose to stay again to raise a family. I’m watching the squirrels stuff their mouths with leaves and scurry up trees to prepare beds for new broods. I’m enjoying the cacophony of chatter from a flock of blackbirds or the song of a single robin as the sun amazes me with yet another spectacular rising or setting. I’m taking a closer look at what appears to be nothing and am noticing the winter feathers of the male Goldfinches start to turn yellow, buds on the branches of an Elderberry bush, and the first leaves of Bee Balm at the base of the brown stalks from last year’s growth. In the belief that anticipation is often the best part of a vacation or a happy event, I’m drinking in this time and appreciating it in its somewhat awkward adolescent phase because I know without seeing that it holds the promise of something quite wonderful that is yet to come.