Monday, April 27, 2009

Tom the Wildflower Apologist

Wild Plants and Wooly Bears

Maine abounds in spring-blooming wildflowers. These range from everyday types such as common blue violet and coltsfoot, to the ephemeral bloodroot, which, while beautiful in its simplicity, has only a brief flowering time. Add to this mix the different trilliums and a smattering of lady’s slippers and we have a delightful potpourri of natural beauty.

Springtime wildflowers have such visual appeal that even while driving down a country lane, these vernal blooms literally jump out at me. I often stop and gaze, spellbound at the wonder and beauty of nature.

So why, then, do so many property owners ignore these same plants that so thrill and mesmerize me? I’ll cite two cases, either of which serves to make my point. First, a man bought a beautiful, riverside estate, complete with fields, gardens and a variety of ornamental trees and shrubs. But the place also came with an untamed bit of land where several kinds of wildflowers grew. This was the place the man selected as a parking spot for his truck and also, some farm machinery.

In spite of this abuse, the wildflowers continue to sprout, although their once-Elysian setting now more closely resembles a parking lot.

The other instance of blatant disregard for existing beauty happened just the past week, on the road where I live. A landowner has decided to build a new driveway. All well and good. Unfortunately, the site is (was) occupied by an immense stand of purple trilliums. These were plainly visible from the road and many of us considered them indicators of true spring. Motorists, walkers and bicyclists marveled at the beauty of their deep-red blossoms. And now they’re gone.

This wasn’t the only available site for a new drive, either. But what are a few wildflowers, to someone who cares little for nature?

I’ve always felt that the flowers that grow here on their own rival and sometimes exceed cultivated varieties for sheer beauty. Perhaps someday, others will take time to kneel down and examine some of these hauntingly-beautiful flowers. And then, maybe, they will think differently about plowing them under. We can only hope.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

I'm Baaa-ck

Wild Plants and Wooly Bears

My blog has been absent for a while, and I must apologize for that. Further, I want to explain why. About 10 months ago, I suffered a huge, financial loss. The newspaper chain I worked for was bought out by an out-of-state interest. This group had gotten a grant and had a new plan for running papers, a plan that included not paying writers and journalists. Instead, they would rely upon non-professionals who were happy to contribute solely for the purpose of seeing their names in print. So after 22 years, I was canned.

The hurt, which I took personally, never stopped. Until today. This needs further explanation. In addition to the newspaper work, I write for magazines. I have written for a regional magazine for about as long as I did the newspapers. This has been my economic salvation. In addition, I have gotten some new accounts, but these are not sufficient to pay bills. “What would happen if my magazine goes under?” I was swamped with what-if’s and undue worry.

And so I suffered. “How will I get by? What will happen to me?” Even worse, I stopped enjoying nature. I worried about what the people over me said, to the point that my stomach was constantly tied in knots, trying to please and appease.

I knew something was wrong when I went out on a sunny, warm spring morning and instead of basking in the glory of nature, worried about my economic status. Clearly, I was in trouble.

But no more, no more. Today, April 26, 2009, I had an epiphany. None of us will live forever. Each day is precious. So I see that worrying, trying to please people for some little sum of money is the ultimate in self-abuse. Whatever happens, economically, I will no longer trade my happiness for some vague idea of financial security.

As a forager, I know that I can get by. Maybe I’ll need to rely upon my outdoor skills more than ever. And just maybe, something good will come along and lift me out of these economic doldrums. But never again will I trade one, happy spring day for needless worry.

I thank God that I have the ability to see my foibles and to change my ways. Now, I can once again go out and enjoy the nature that I so love, to the fullest.

I urge every reader to adopt a similar mindset. Each day is precious, especially when spent enjoying the immense beauty of creation.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Capricious April

April has me at her beck and call. The fourth month of our calendar year, most capricious of the twelve, plays with my physical being as well as my emotions.

The dismal, gray landscape that greets me each morning does little to encourage the spirit or to inspire creativity. Huge piles of dirty snow remain on the edge of my lawn, along my driveway and worst of all, on top of my vegetable garden. I live in a valley, carved out long ago by a small stream. Here, tall pines cast long shadows and sunrise, at least the physical appearance of earth’s star, arrives much later than the almanac would suggest.

Daytime temperatures only in the mid-40s make it necessary to wear a jacket for outdoor work, especially under cloudy skies. Such conditions also dictate that we continue to pay homage to the woodstove. Without a fire, the house becomes cold and clammy. But wood doesn’t burn well now because the same temperatures that call for a fire also keep the chimney from drawing. Smoke fills the room each time the stove door opens and when the wood finally catches, it burns for only a brief time before regressing to a low-grade smudge.

Melting snow and ice create sinkholes in the dooryard and in the driveway. Long-forgotten logs and rocks, pushed up by the retreating frost, become stumbling blocks for the unwary. Water from snowmelt forms wide pools, mandating the use of “walking boards.” These are stored in the barn and only used in April. When the land finally dries, they go back to storage, out of sight and out of mind for another year.

Spring bulbs emerge, but refuse to bloom. These need sunlight and for days, even weeks, the sun seems so very distant and foreign. Accordingly, crocuses, tulips and daffodils send up their leafy tips but keep their colorful blossoms under wraps.

The storm systems that sweep through Maine every week or so signal their arrival by causing arthritic joints to ache. Fingers become stiff and unresponsive. Oddly, the onset of low-pressure systems causes the most physical discomfort. When the system finally arrives, symptoms gradually fade.

But April has an alternate persona, maddeningly shy and reclusive. This other personality holds a promise, one that makes the fourth month’s dark side so difficult to endure. If it wishes, April’s sun can send healing warmth to our very bones and joy to our hearts.

April’s grandeur has no peers. Hayfields become carpets of soothing green and poplars on distant ridges, all decked out in swaths of gauzy, pastel green, contrast perfectly with scarlet red maple flowers. Fire on faraway blueberry fields sends out tantalizing streamers of fragrant smoke.

April, if it only chooses, has the power to lull, to soothe and transform.