“How do you mark the arrival of spring? Is it a date on the calendar, or something else?”
Last Thursday, on the first day of spring, this question posted on the Yellowstone National Park Twitter account got me thinking. According to the calendar, spring has arrived—but is that the only indication? On March 20th, did the world suddenly shift from the harsh cold of winter to the soft green of spring?
The signs of spring are subtle, yet unmistakable-- often only noticed subconsciously, but overwhelming in effect. Pale winter sunlight regains its depth and illuminates the landscape with warm tones; the rain loses its chill; the earth breathes again, exhaling the scent of the green newness of spring; songbirds return and warble their greetings to the morning; the days are longer, and most noticeably, flowers begin to bloom again. The annual return of spring is marked for me by the re-emergence of one forest-dwelling flower in particular… the trillium.
|Beautiful specimens of trillium growing in the woods near my childhood home. Lainey Piland photo|
When I was younger, my grandpa would walk through the woods with me in the early spring, and we would scour the damp forest floor and shaded glens to count as many of the oft-elusive trillium as possible. Our record count one year was eighty-six. Grandpa told me that you should never pick a trillium, because they will not grow back for seven years; and ever since then, in my annual trillium quests now completed alone after my grandpa’s passing, I have yet to pluck one of these beautiful flowers from their forest dwelling.
I felt something akin to jealousy this year when I saw a local conservation group post a photo on Facebook of “my” flower, with a caption stating that trilliums are now blooming in such-and-such park. A cold feeling of dread clenched my gut. They’re blooming? Have I missed it? The emergence of trilliums only happens once a year and lasts for a few short weeks, at most. At this point, I informed my husband that we should go for a walk that upcoming Saturday, not wanting to miss the sight of my favorite flowers heralding the arrival of spring.
That Saturday afternoon, we set out on a short walk through the Redmond Watershed Preserve (my still-healing ankle injury necessitating the short duration). Hoping that the Trillium Trail in the Preserve would live up to its name, I immediately began scouring the forest floor for the characteristic trio of white petals. However, a little ways in, amid the dim light filtered by the towering crowns of Doug Fir overhead, I began to feel a little uneasy. Looking around the forest, it appeared as though spring had not arrived here yet. Last autumn’s maple and alder leaves still covered much of the forest floor in a suffocating paper mache-like layer of soggy, decaying humus. The winter-bare branches of shrubs were covered in tiny green buds that hadn’t yet unfurled their new green leaves. And most alarming of all: there were no trilliums in sight. If you had told me that it was November, by the appearance of the forest, I might have believed you.
Although the prospects were not looking promising, I still continued to keep an eye out for the trilliums as we continued our walk. I pointed out the different cedar, Doug fir and hemlock trees and taught my husband how to tell them apart. We watched a rotund chipmunk perched on a branch chirping and chortling at us as we walked by. We greeted fellow walkers passing us on the trail. We dodged a horse and rider galloping madly along the powerline section on the trail. We found skunk cabbages growing in a creek trickling through a gully. But still no trilliums. It must be too early. Perhaps it is not spring yet after all.
|Blooming skunk cabbage. Pretty, but not what I was looking for... Lainey Piland photo|
But then. On the homestretch of our walk, just when it looked as though I would be heading home sans trillium sighting, I saw them. Growing unexpectedly from a downed, decaying tree spanning a shallow gully were two trilliums. Their stalks were tall and their petals small and almost crumpled-looking—they were imperfect in appearance, but were perfectly what I was looking for. I’m not ashamed to admit that I threw my arms into the air and jumped up and down in celebration of this discovery, which I had completely given up hope of finding. Spring had arrived. I found my trilliums.
|Two trilliums growing on a nurse log - hard to see if you're not looking for them! Lainey Piland photo|
Carefully edging my way down the loose leaf litter of the embankment, I got as close as I could to the trilliums. I snapped a few photos, thought of my grandpa, and silently thanked the Lord for this ray of hope in the midst of a forest that otherwise still appeared to be in the grips of winter. My husband offered his hand and pulled me back up onto the trail, and we continued on our way. We didn’t spy any more trilliums on the short walk back to the parking lot, but I was satisfied. I hadn’t found the motherlode of trilliums that I had hoped for, but I did find two. Two faithful flowers that will return every year to mark the beginning of spring… two flowers promising that milder weather and more lovely scenery was on its way, quietly breaking through the remnants of winter one bit at a time.
|Lainey Piland photo|