The may apples are finally blooming–now that it’s almost June, thanks I’m guessing to the chilly spring. I wouldn’t blame you for not noticing, though …
…since when they bloom, they look like this. Go ahead. Find them!
A large field of flat-topped five-lobbed leaves, and underneath every plant with two leaves, growing from the joint between them…
… one hard, waxy, white flower with a bright yellow centre.
As is common with other spring ephemerals (trilliums, trout lilies, bloodroot, etc.), may apples reproduce both sexually (through the flowers & fruits) and asexually (by spreading roots underground and forming colonies). The colonies can be quite large so while it is difficult to see the flowers when they’re blooming, it’s impossible to miss the leaves! And if you scootch down on the ground and take a peak beneath, you’ll see dozens blooming all at once, a whole dimly-lit wonderland of lovely ivory flowers.
Later in the summer they’ll become small fruits, which are not poisonous if eaten when ripe in small quantities. The leaves and roots, however, are toxic, although First Nations would use the extracts to treat stomach aches.
May apples are another way nature has to reward those who are willing to take their time and really look. No one ever saw a may apple, while distractedly rushing through the woods.
Frances wants to be a wildlife vet when she grows up.
Until recently, it was just plain vet, from her lifelong fascination with animals of all kinds. You can imagine how excited she was when I told her that “wildlife vet” is a real job, not just some pie-in-the-sky fantasy she dreamed up.
On the weekend, she got to practice when a baby bird got itself tangled up in our thorny rosebush.
A cluster of little girls gathered at my back as I carefully cut out the rose branches keeping the little bird pinned, and carried it out to freedom, where it promptly began hopping towards the road. “Oh no, little bird,” I said, heading it off and picking it up. “Should we take it into the backyard, where it will be safe?”
“Yes!” chorused the girls.
I put it down on a rock in the back garden–where I took the picture–and then, probably panicking at the aggressively nurturing group of girls surrounding it, it hopped right into the poppy garden, and we didn’t see it again. Its almost-mothers, bereft to a one, spent a few hours carefully listening, calling, peeking through the poppy stems, and reading through my bird field guide in hopes of luring it out and caring for it again. What disappointed them most, I believe, was that the bird wasn’t properly injured and they couldn’t tuck it into a homemade nest and coo over it for a couple of weeks. (Lucky bird.)
But it’s cute, eh? And, as Frances joyfully reminded all of her friends and her father for at least 24 hours, she got to be a wildlife vet!
Outdoor adventures have changed from Frances’s early years, as our skull walk also demonstrated. The world is a big, exciting place to be explored, and at the same time a big, terrifying place to be protected from. When she was a baby or toddler or even kindergartener, we’d say, “Look!” and she’d look. Often at what we pointed to–the mountain range, the cactus, the elephant, the big tree with the oddly shaped branches–but just as often she’d look at the squirrel or seagull or pebble or something else closer to hand and more accessible. Looking seemed perfectly satisfactory. Now she explores and interacts; nature is something to put in her hands, wrestle with, clamber over. It’s a wonderful phase, though somewhat exhausting.
After spending last weekend with The Nature Principle, I’ve spent this week reading through the first half of Wild Play: Parenting Adventures in the Great Outdoors, by David Sobel (he of ecophobia fame). He discusses the different phases of children’s adventures outdoors quite extensively. Unlike my other kids-and-nature books, it’s more memoir and less manual. I expect to like the second half as much as I liked the first–in which case, you can expect to see a glowing review here in the next few weeks.
I became very afraid last weekend about the potential apocalypse. There I was, going about my regular business, when I saw this giant yellow flaming ball in the sky. Then I remembered that it was something called the sun, and usually heralded a good day to spend outside. I obliged.
Mostly this consisted of yard work–lawn mowing, hedge trimming, and weed pulling–speaking of which, do not, for the love of god, plant a garden of ground-climbing roses. They grow like weeds, take over the lawn and the sidewalk, and it is impossible to weed them without skinning your forearms. I’ve decided more or less officially to let half of the backyard grow in wild and leave it unmowed, and claim this is for the good of the neighbourhood birds and rabbits. You can judge the honestly of this claim for yourself. At any rate, it does make my life a bit easier.
But mostly–Dear Readers, I went to the forest. And it was green! There were things growing. Pretty things, just like spring had actually begun and winter was really truly over. Just in time for summer, in fact, as June starts this week, but whatever. There were trout lilies, trilliums, and the Royal Botanical Gardens’ magnolia glade in full bloom. Yellow warblers and red-winged blackbirds, green and leopard and tree frogs, cacophonies of spring peepers at dusk.
It was, in every way, perfect, except that Frances was at her Dad’s house all weekend so I didn’t get to see her geeking out over all the cool frogs.
It was also, in every way, a perfect illustration of the central thesis of Richard Louv’s recentThe Nature Principle, which extends the argument of his prior Last Child in the Woods to society at large, and about time. His point? That you, your longevity, your mood, your relationships, your physical strength, your family, your neighbourhood, your community, the world at large, and the non-human world as well, all stand to benefit from a reconnection between us and our green kin and neighbours. An important book that deserves to be widely read and will almost certainly be ignored in favour of Apple’s latest profit statements, it made me dizzyingly happy. I read it in snippets between long stretches outside and felt both smugly self-righteous and determined to spend that much more time outdoors. Even in winter (perish the thought) since apparently winter walks provide just as much benefit as summer walks do, only people don’t enjoy them as much.
Bummer. I’ve lost my excuse to stay inside in January.
At any rate: on the assumption that any readers of my little blog are likely to be pro-green and well-disposed to the occasional out-of-doors afternoon, pick it up. You will have to imagine how it thrilled me to see and read “Near is the New Far,” seeing as it’s only what I’ve been saying to anyone who will listen for the past ten years, which isn’t many people, except now I can add “and Richard Louv agrees with me, so there!”
I want to write more here, and soon, and not just because Louv filled my head with a lot of green ideas, either. I miss it. But between coordinating field visits for frog-counting and debating the merits of various methods of ensuring soil visibility for archaeological surveys, writing Natural Heritage pieces for Heritage Toronto, raising a daughter, maintaining a house, reading, sewing, running, and sleeping a couple times a week, this has been the one thing that gets dropped. That should change, soon.
If you see me here again in June, then it has changed. Otherwise, not so much.
Have you ever noticed the way buds open, almost erupting as if in force of a slow-motion explosion?
They don’t just open. They spill. Like milk spreading across a kitchen floor, or water boiling over a pot. Like a snake shedding a too-small skin.
Most of the leaves around here are open, but a few trees remain brown and bare. Watch the buds. See if you don’t see what I mean.
These ones–I believe they are beech–I particularly love, unfolding from their buds like paper fans, their edges furry and corrugated. Look at how elegantly they were packed in and how glad they must now be to stretch, and feel the sun.
It happened that I couldn’t find in all my books
more than a picture and a few words concerning
the trout lily,
so I shut my eyes.
And let the darkness come in
and roll me back.
The old creek
began to sing in my ears
as it rolled along, like the hair of spring,
and the young girl I used to be
heard it also,
as she came swinging into the woods,
truant from everything as usual
except the clear globe of the day, and its
Then she stopped,
where the first trout lilies of the year
had sprung from the ground
with their spotted bodies
and their six-antlered bright faces,
and their many red tongues.
If she spoke to them, I don’t remember what she said,
and if they kindly answered, it’s a gift that can’t be broken
by giving it away.
All I know is, there was a light that lingered, for hours,
under her eyelids–that made a difference
when she went back to a difficult house, at the end of the day.
This poem comes from Mary Oliver’s Why I Wake Early, and if you haven’t read it, you should. Happy Poetry Month!
It’s Easter … and I saw the season’s first bloodroot … and I did kneel, as a matter of fact.
And why not? Why shouldn’t I?
I found myself thinking, even–without remembering the poem I posted last year, linked above–that if there is a god, it is a wild thing that lives in the woods. When humans can design and build something as resilient, as beautiful, as functional, as durable, as simple, and as whole as any woodland wildflower, I’ll believe god looks human.
Until then, I’ll enter my own cathedral, and pray at my own altar.
Around here, the very first of the trout lily leaves are appearing.
Look for them at the base of large tree trunks, between exposed roots, on sun-facing southern slopes. The microclimate there is just warm enough to give them a head start. They will look like tightly furled brown spears poking their way through the soil at first. On my birthday, I found several. I can’t wait to get back out this weekend and see how they’ve grown.
Again, forsythia is native to China, not Canada, but as it’s not invasive and it gives such cheery yellow blossoms at a time of year when almost everything else is still brown, I can’t help but like it.
Apparently most birds and other wildlife give it a pass, so it’s not much for habitat. In fact it does nothing whatsoever for any resident of Canada, human or no, except give us an indisputable sign that spring is finally here.