Thursday, April 23, 2009

Life continues

Dave mentioned yesterday that there were little blue flowers blooming in the shade garden. So I took the camera out to find one. The scillas were up, their tiny blue bells bright in the patchy sunlight. Stiff bluish green leaf stalks had forced their way through the dry beige remnants of last seasons leaves. And in the center of the leaf cluster, dark green stalks each support a single brilliant blue bell.

I lay down on the cool, moist ground to photograph the flowers and the smell of the earth enveloped me. Up close, the scilla flowers appear sturdy, quite capable of forcing their way through the frozen ground to be the first flowers of spring.

The sun enticed me and I wandered into the hay field, searching for pussy willows. They thrive in the moist soil at the edge of the streamlet (if you are a hydrological engineer, read drainage ditch) that divides the east hay field from the rest of our property. But those willows were too large for me to get good photographs of the fuzzy pussy buds. I wander on, following our property line until I come to a perfect willow tree, all by itself at the edge of the slough on the border between tillable land and wetland - dry enough to drive a tractor on some years, but usually too wet to work.

The willow was perfect, a trophy tree if there was such a thing, the tips of it’s branches glowing green in the afternoon sun. I stepped within the crown of the tree to focus the camera on a stem of pussy willow buds just beginning to bloom. Thread fine anthers tipped with yellow pollen had forced their way through the pussy fuzz.

Gradually, I became aware of the sound. The willow tree was full of honey bees. These were the workers Dave and I had hived less than a week ago. They were gathering pollen to feed the brood, the larval bees which were growing from the eggs laid by their queen. These bees and this willow were the first stages of our honey harvest next October.

The bees climbed around on the flowers, picking up bits of pollen as they walked. They brushed their front legs against their hind legs repeatedly, transferring the pollen they had just picked up to storage. Each bee wore bright orange ovals of pollen on their hind legs.

The bees ignored me until I attempted to take their photographs. When I moved in on a branch with a foraging bee, the bee moved on. Then a cloud obscured the sun and I could feel the temperature dropping. The foraging bees disappeared. They must have been flying at their minimum temperature tolerance.

For me, the weather was still beautifully warm and I continued my walk through the woods. The elderberry bushes were budding out, the silver maple had already bloomed and scattered pollen to the winds. Green leaves were beginning to push their way through the leaf duff, but I saw no wild flowers until I turned around to walk back toward the house, still searching the dun forest floor for color. Suddenly, just where I had expected to see them, but hadn’t when I had walked past the first time, I saw the blossoms of a trilobed hepatica.

Tiny, light purple flowers trembled above the dead leaves carpeting the ground. Not a trace of green, just the flowers, so fragile, so delicate. And yet strong enough to survive late season frosts like we had last night.

The hepatica are a gift from my mother, given to me every spring even though she died ten years ago. I remember planting the scruffy looking plant the second year we lived here. Laurel was just beginning to trundle through the woods, Amber was ready and willing to help with every job. The four of us wandered through the woods to find the best place to plant each wild flower harvested from my mother’s garden.

Twenty seven years later, one hepatica had only multiplied to two hepatica. But they are surviving. And every year, they remind me that spring follows winter. Every year, they remind me of walking through our woods with my children almost thirty years ago and even more amazingly, every year, the hepatica remind me of walking through her woods with my mother, fifty years ago. The hepatica are a sign that spring has come and summer will follow, that six months from now we will be harvesting honey, and that thirty years from now, the sight of a hepatica may remind my daughters of their mother and perhaps of their grandmother. Life continues.


  1. Love your story. Reminds me of walking and looking for those first flowers too. Glen

  2. obviously I'm a week behind, but bottle babies and grandma's hepatica are making me cry today. thank you.

  3. Beautiful flowers, beautiful prose. Thank you.
    POPS in CO