April 19, 2020
On a brisk and breezy Saturday under a blue, blue sky and after another week of sheltering at home, we set off to find out how far spring has progressed. It’s been a cold week, but maybe bloodroot, one of the first woodland flowers, will be blooming, and we’ll be lucky enough to find it.
First stop: Zumbro Falls Woods Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), 430 wooded acres along the Zumbro River and one of our favorite springtime spots. We’re early for this year, we know, and at first it seems we’re too early for any flowers. But we are out, chasing wildflowers from a social distance, and it feels like freedom.
The shooting stars are no more than small clusters of leaves—but so many, some of them growing up through the snow. In a week or two they’ll burst into bunches of brilliant blossoms. Other plants, too, have made a leafy appearance: Dutchman’s breeches, cutleaf toothwort, a few hepatica. Farther down the slope toward the Zumbro River we find hepaticas in full bloom and trout lily leaves poking up through the last drifts of snow. Lower still down the hillside, Virginia bluebells are budding, and tiny Virginia spring beauty surprises us with their pink and white flowers in bunches like tiny bouquets. Anemone, too, has tiny buds among its reddish leaves. We are on the verge of springtime here, a well-earned springtime after a hard winter and a harder time of coronavirus.
Next stop, Carley State Park, where the wind rushes through the treetops. Here, too, the Virginia bluebells are budding along with Dutchman’s breeches. A hillside of hepatica runs down toward the river below, and soft grey-green wild ginger leaves unfold. Here we find our first bloodroot blooming, still wrapped in its leaf, and our first tiny anemone blossoms opening. Sharply pointed spears poke up, and we tentatively name them as the first mayapples. In the shelter of tree roots we see our first trout lily flower buds, and by a rocky outcrop our first western Jacob’s ladder leaves. So many firsts–beginnings and buds and promises –this is what spring looks like, and it makes us so glad.
Even driving, we keep discovering spring. Sandhill cranes fly overhead, pelicans make vees in the sky, and raptors ride the wind. While we don’t necessarily advocate drive-by flower chasing, we’re excited to find pasqueflowers on a sandy roadside cut. As we head for Kelly’s cabin and pizza and wine, we make one last stop where we spot an abundance of bloodroot blooms white by the roadside. It’s late enough in the day that the bloodroot are actually closing up, folding up their petals. We’re ready to close up the day as well, knowing that even in hard times spring returns to our woods and prairies and to our hearts.
On Sunday morning as we head home we stop along a wooded roadside and find, for the first time ever, what we think is squirrel corn, a close relative of Dutchman’s breeches that we’ve been hunting for years now. We’ll come back when the plants bloom to verify, but for now we’re giddy with the possibility of seeing squirrel corn at long last.
One last first: along the drive home a flock of pelicans flies overhead, and as they turn in the sky, the light on their wings makes them seem to vanish. Turning again, they are white against the blue sky, then gone, then back again. An amazing finish to an amazing weekend of wildflower chasing.