April 24, 2020
Wildflower season is moving toward full springtime bloom, and this year we’ve decided to only go to places where we can maintain social distance and avoid potentially crowded trails. Cannon River Trout Lily Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) near Faribault has only one trail into the part of the SNA that is reachable by car (parts of the SNA require a canoe), so we headed there. Trout lily leaves grew thickly by the parking space at the end of a dead-end road, and several graceful trout lily flowers nodded in the breeze. Bright white bloodroot and more trout lilies bloomed along the abandoned roadway that leads to the actual SNA entrance, so our hopes were high for early flowers and perhaps even a sighting of Minnesota’s own rare dwarf trout lily along the riverbank.
We followed the trail into the SNA as far as a decrepit bridge where signs warned not to cross. So we climbed down to the floodplain forest floor, winding our way between muddy spots, ephemeral pools, and downed trees, and hopping across murky streams. We had wanted a pathless place, and clearly we had found one.
The farther we went, though, the less we saw on the washed-over floodplain except for occasional Virginia waterleaf leaves. When we eventually reached the riverbank hardly a trout lily leaf or a single wildflower was in sight. Had we made a mistake coming here?
Not at all. It was a warm spring day, the river burbled, birds called, woodpeckers hammered, a frog (or was it a toad?) crossed our path, and we were glad just to be outside. Not yet ready to leave, we followed along the foot of a bluff and discovered an abundance of blossoms climbing the hillside– wild ginger, spring beauty, eastern false rue anemone, Dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, the unfolding leaves of bellwort, and a burst of white flowers that we identified as sharp-lobed hepatica. Delighting in each new find we wandered along the bluff, reluctant to reach the car and head home.
It would have been easy enough to decide to turn back when we found ourselves crossing a flattened floor of mud or when we didn’t see much of anything at all that we had set out to find. If we had turned back, though, we would have missed the surprise of a bluff full of flowers, the budding promise of more flowers to come, and the certain knowledge that spring is here.
You just never know what you might find when you go out flower chasing—and don’t give up.