Saturday, April 2, 2016

Wanderings: Seeking Spring (2016)

It has become a tradition for me to take to the woods at this time each year to search for evidence of spring's arrival in the white trillium that bloom in the forest. For the past two years, I've sought out these precious heralds of spring while hiking along the aptly-named Trillium Trail in the Redmond Watershed Preserve, an 800-acre nature preserve of mature second-growth forest set aside in suburban Redmond.

But this year was a little different.

Rather than meandering through a protected and beloved forest along well-traveled and maintained paths, I was instead bushwhacking my way through a wild, pathless scrap of gorgeous forest filled with sunlight and birdsong - a doomed forest in the Issaquah Highlands that will soon be mowed over to make room for the construction of four new office buildings. And this time, I didn't just seek spring. I took it.

A few months back, I volunteered to salvage native plants with the King County Native Plant Salvage Program, and spent a miserably rainy, windy and freezing cold day digging up sword fern, salmonberry, and cedar, Doug fir, and hemlock saplings in a small patch of forest on the fringes of a Snoqualmie housing development. These plants were then taken to the nursery where they were put in pots and kept safe for use in upcoming restoration projects throughout the county. This forest would be cut down to make way for construction of more houses, but the developer allowed King County to come in first, to salvage as many plants as possible instead of letting them be mowed over and gone to waste.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I received an email from the plant salvage program coordinator, announcing a special salvage event on March 26th for volunteers only, where we'd be allowed to go to a site and salvage plants for ourselves all day long. Hmmm, I thought. March 26th. That was prime trillium time...

....And so, early on the sunny morning of March 26th, I found myself climbing over moss-covered nurse logs, fighting my way through salmonberry thickets, and dodging low-hanging vine maple branches (why do those dratted vine maple always poke you in the eye?!) while lugging large and unwieldy plastic tote bins and dragging a small shovel with a broken handle, whose hefty weight, I quickly discovered, was well out of proportion to its small size. I had one goal that day: to find a few trillium to rescue from certain death, from being bulldozed over, scraped away, hauled off to some landfill where they'd never again bloom or see the light of day, and instead to bring them home and lovingly plant them in a corner of my tiny backyard I'd already set aside for just that purpose.

A doomed forest.

Carrying my empty bins and shovel, I slowly walked through the forest, sweeping my gaze back and forth across the ground in search of those stark white petals. It's easy to find trillium if you know where to look. They like to grow at the base of trees, and in groves of sword ferns, and on rotting nurse logs, and in the sunny forest edges, and in the deep shade... well, they grow anywhere and everywhere, except the places you're actually looking. Ten minutes in, I began to worry. I had sighted no trillium yet, and I was in a forest slowly filling with other bucket- and shovel-toting people who, apparently, were also looking for trillium to take home. The competition was fierce, and the person with the keenest eyes would go home with the greatest number of those coveted flowers.

I had to find at least one. I'd driven all this way, with hopes high and visions of trillium dancing in my head.

And then I saw one, growing in the dappled shade beneath the boughs of a cedar tree. Mine. MINE! I wanted to yell as I half-ran, half-stumbled toward the treasured plant, hoping no one else had spotted it. I dropped my plastic totes and shovel on the ground and knelt to examine the small, delicate white flower with relief. I picked up my heavy shovel and rested its point on the ground about a foot away from the flower. Raising my right foot and preparing to bring it down hard to drive the shovel into the soft dirt, I felt a twinge of conscience and paused. This felt wrong. The trillium belonged in the forest. You weren't supposed to pick them, and you certainly weren't supposed to dig them up and take them home. You're trying to save it, I reminded myself. If you don't dig this flower up, then someone else will. Gritting my teeth and still not convinced this was entirely okay, I unearthed the trillium and carefully placed it in my plastic tote bin, along with a few shovels of good dirt.

Toting my totes and dragging my shovel, I wandered further through the forest and found another trillium growing at the base of a bigleaf maple. With the shouts of found one! sounding through the forest as my fellow scavengers found their own trillium, I quickly overcame my misgivings and dug the flower up, setting it next to the first trillium in the plastic tote. And because they looked lonely, I also dug up two Oregon grape and a half-dozen bleeding heart to keep them company. Along with a few more shovels of dirt.

I felt sure there was a third trillium out there with my name on it. I needed to keep looking. However, I was now struggling to carry one very heavy tote and one empty one, and the shovel. It was too much. I carefully set my plant-filled tote at the base of a cedar tree, in a nook where hopefully no one else would find it. I'm positive that the other people salvaging plants were completely honest and trustworthy human beings who would never stoop to stealing trillium, but in that moment I was completely unreasonable and couldn't be sure. As I walked away into the forest, I looked over my shoulder and kept a posessive and jealous eye on the tote in case anyone approached (picture Gollum and The One Ring here... my precious...). Then I gave up, feeling utterly aggravated with myself, hauled the tote back to my car and locked it safely in the trunk, then headed back into the forest to find one more trillium.

Amidst the trilling song of a Pacific wren and the raspy scolding of an Anna's hummingbird, I walked slowly through a grove of sword ferns, climbed over a few logs soft with green moss, and shoved aside low-hanging branches as I looked for the scarce trillium on the shady forest floor. I couldn't help but think of my grandpa at this time. Before his passing, we used to walk through the woods around my home and look for trillium in the springtime. In those woods, as with the forest I now walked through, there were no paths, no trails, no easy passage through the thick underbrush. My experience today was so reminiscent of those childhood memories with my grandpa that I became overwhelmed for a moment, and sunk down on a log and sat, and remembered, and listened, and thought wistfully of the person who should be sitting right beside me.

Gathering myself together, I stood up after a few minutes had passed and dragged my shovel and tote back to the sword fern grove. I dug two of them up and then called it a day. I had come in hopes of finding one trillium but ended up going home with two. There was no need to continue searching for a third.

With the two full totes arranged carefully in the backseat and the air conditioning at full blast to keep the plants from wilting on this suddenly warm day, I drove home goosebumped and shivering, and planted everything in a shaded corner of the backyard. After giving my new little forest garden a good watering, I stood back and looked happily at those two tiny trillium.

In years to come, I won't have to wander far to seek spring every year... those lovely, favorite flowers of mine and all of the sweet memories they represent will be only steps away.


  1. Love this post, Lainey! It made me smile. So glad you found your beloved flower. :)

    1. Thank you for reading, and for the kind words, Ashley! :) Happy spring!