Spring ephemeral flowers make my heart sing!

by Kathleen Wanner, Executive Director, Vermont Woodlands Association

Our connections to the land come from so many diverse passions. For me, it’s the early spring when shoots of green begin to pop and as if by magic, turn into spring ephemerals seemingly overnight. This is the time that makes my heart sing! I can slow myself down and follow Leopold’s model: Observe, Participate, Reflect. 

Trilllium, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Trout Lily, Dutchman’s Breeches, Hepatica, Blue Cohosh, Maidenhair Fern … so many beautiful, delicate blooms appear on my little 18-acre woodlot that I can barely contain myself when they arrive. I like to think that I have a symbiotic relationship with my land. No lawn for me – that takes work. No garden for me – that takes soil. But my rocks and wildflowers have found that they can live here comfortably and over the years, friends and family have joined them.

It’s fascinating to see how every disturbance on the landscape brings new surprises. Two decades ago, Painted Trillium were plentiful; today it’s rare to find even one. Red Trillium have popped up in different locations, with more southerly exposure.  The cohosh inhabits a very small patch of rich earth under a large outcropping of ledge. It’s joined by Maidenhair Fern that’s so elusive among a plethora of other not-so-special ferns.  And the Jacks abound with new finds annually, especially along the gravely edges of the old log road.  

Red Trillium drawing by Kathleen Wanner
A Red Trillium from Kathleen Wanner's sketchbook

Spring brings this abundant but fleeting beauty that invites up-close observation.  It seems so simple but I sometimes surprise myself by being oblivious to the world around me, by missing the subtle nuances of change. How much passes me by in those moments when my brain is spinning off in a hundred different directions, when my days are more about destination than journey?

After nearly fifty years of ownership, a recent discovery brought unimaginable delight - I have Lady's Slippers! LADY'S SLIPPERS! They grow on a wooded hillside barely traversed because it’s so steep but there they are, in all their glory. I didn’t find them. My forester did while gathering data for a management plan. I won’t see them until late June but they are a gift in the offing. 

Drawing of a Lady's Slipper by Kathleen Wanner
A Lady's Slipper from Kathleen Wanner's sketchbook

Prior to the advent of cell phone cameras, I used to make my travels through the woods armed with sketch pad and colored pencils. They are still my favorite tools, but all too often are replaced by the click of the camera tucked into my pocket.  Although it isn’t a great substitute for careful contemplation and study of form and color, it does slow me down.

Truth be told, it’s not just spring that makes my heart sing.  I’m a sucker for every change of season. I feel fortunate to live in this place with such natural intensity.  Here, nothing lasts forever. Even a sub-zero snowy morning in January will soon be a distant memory replaced by the pop of spring green; a ninety degree dripping summer day will miraculously transform to amber hues of autumn.  The mountains make me feel protected, anchored snugly to the earth, and enveloped in her care.  

Our relationship with the earth is what Leopold invites us to think about and my invitation is most often delivered by spring wildflowers. What invites you to explore that relationship, to seek harmony with the natural world? What makes your heart sing?