Monday, April 14, 2008

First April Walk in the Woods - '08

I have been wanting to visit the woods for over a week now, but things kept getting in the way. Getting the May/June issue of The Essential Herbal mailed out was one of them, amidst an avalanche of others. Over the weekend when we were traveling to and fro, I noticed that marsh marigolds and something that *might* have been dutchman's breeches were catching my glance while we whipped along on the back roads.
So this morning after doing a few necessary things, I donned my hoodie and sneakers and grabbed the camera, past the pond with the mallards and frogs jumping at my approach, and headed into the woods.
The area was rich with natives when my sister and her husband bought it, and since that time we've been adding a little here and there. In the spring, I feel like a mother checking on her sleeping babes. Sometimes I'll gently pull back some leaf cover to take a peek at what's going on underneath. This year that wasn't necessary, as things are getting into full gear without my nudgings (as they always would - I'm just to anxious to wait sometimes).
I was a little surprised to see the bloodroot blooming all along the hillside across the stream. It took me about 30 seconds to get my feet wet and get the first splashes of mud up the back of my jeans. After all the rain we've had, another surprise was finding the stream shallow, but much wider. Last year I waited about a week too long and missed all but a few blossoms. The foliage is stunning too, but the flowers! Sigh....
Everywhere the jewelweed was starting to push up the first sets of leaves. It is easy to spot once you know it. The leaves are almost a blue-ish green, with a pale cast. In another couple of weeks there will be plenty for fresh soapmaking, but fortunately we stored plenty in the freezer so we'd have a good supply cured for the spring shows and wholesale orders.
The Mayapples are just starting to come up. The way they erupt from the ground is almost prehistoric to me. Little knobs pop up, and then get taller, finally opening up like an umbrella. If you look closely at the picture, you can see several stages of unfurling going on.
Next up was one of the trillium patches. Every year I try to add another plant or two in a different spot. This year I'd like to put them across the creek, where they would probably naturalize better. That bank hosts the most diverse plant life, so it probably would be a better (if more difficult to reach) home. These are my pet project. The clumps keep growing and it just fills my heart with joy to see them.
It would seem likely that sweet violets would be growing like crazy down there, but such is not the case. Only on the path where we walk do they grow. Not in large clumps, either... but single little plants glistening among the leaves from last fall. This year I did notice one area with a good colony. It just happens to be in the one area where we don't stick around long. There is a tree that has fallen against another, leaning precariously above the pathway for several years now. Right beneath that fall zone is a healthy group of violets, more than I've ever seen before. Made me smile to think that they are teasing me there.

The spotted, smooth foliage of the trout lily, or dog-toothed violet is everywhere, carpeting the entire woodland. Only 2 were blooming this morning. Each year the first to bloom are at the base of a particular tree, nestled in amongst the roots of the tree. I always know that if they are blooming, that will be the place to find them. Sure enough, there they were, blooming several days ahead of the rest. In another week, the forest will be alive with these glorious beauties.
Wonder of wonder, the dutchman's breeches came back again. It took me a while to find them, as a tree had fallen down the bank and obscured them from my view. But all of the clumps we put in two years ago have come back. Only one of them was blooming, and I am hoping that we were early. We're thinking of squeezing in a trip to Shenk's Ferry Wildflower Preserve later this week. They should be rampant there! Another week would probably be better, and we'd see more if we waited.

We put in two different varieties of wild ginger. The first is shiny, glossy, beautiful leathery leaves. This patch is several feet in diameter, and while the deer seem to enjoy munching on it, the plant doesn't appear to be any worse the wear. There were a few blooms under the leaves, but they are small and point towards the earth, making them difficult to see, much less photograph with a Kodak Easyshare.
The second variety has a little bit of fuzz to the leaf, and the tips of the leaves are more pointed. The stems are completely covered with this fuzz, and that will last all year long. This plant has the more classically shaped wild ginger blossoms. Although this one hasn't opened up completely, they are cup-shaped with pointed ends jutting out in four different directions. The color is scrumptious and unique. I adore them, and last year attempted to preserve one in resin. Not a great result, but I'm not giving up just yet.

Finally it was time to go back up towards the house. I had to pass Maryanne's (and stop in to finish wrapping an order of soap for delivery today...). Along the way, her driveway was ablaze with daffodils and tulips. I layed down on the warm macadam and looked closely at the different forms.

Spring is the best. It makes winter worthwhile. It reminds us of everything good in the world and fills us with hope and renewal.
The first 10 or 15 walks in the woods each year are my favorite things to do all year. No matter how many times I see these things, each year it is like seeing old friends for the first time in a very long time. I have missed them tremendously!


Laura said...

I LOVE this blog! For a city mouse like me, who is probably a country mouse at heart, this is a GREAT TREAT! Thank you so much!

Unknown said...

Looks like you had a grat nature walk as we did. Those are great pictures you have taken.

Anonymous said...

Nice photos. Reminds when I was small, we used to live near the woods.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I ran into your blog while looking to ID a berry shrub. As I am a mere plant hobbyist, I greatly admire you for all that you do and for your vast knowledge of plants and nature.

I don't know if it's still the case, but I still own a Kodak Easyshare, so I totally understand the frustration when trying to get a nice pic. of a flower in closeup. However, I've gotten used to go around my poor camera's shortcomings by using the Auto mode and the Macro button (above the camera, the one with flower and landscape images next to it). When the display shows the flower, I get close to the plant about 10 to 20 inches and push the button first halfway through, until I see the green bars of AutoFocus exactly on my subject. Only then do I push the button, and well, I get lucky some times. :) I got some incredibly detailed photos with this old camera by using this technique. Hope it helps!