Celebrating seasons has been a focus for this blog since I started it over two years ago. Seeing the cycle of the earth sprouting, growing, flourishing, and then dying and decaying in its eruption of color, texture, and scent throughout the year has always been a point of interest for me as a nature observer. Especially in climates like Portland’s, which don’t go to sleep under snow in the winter, there is always something new to see growing or changing. Our landscape is never the same.
This year, spring has come upon us all of a sudden, it seems, after a fairly mild winter without snow. I kept waiting for it to get cold, but it never went below freezing for more than a week or two. And then, all of a sudden, the skies cleared of their everpresent winter cloud cover, the temperature warmed, and spring has been upon us in an eruption of blooms and rain-tinted sunshine. Of course, you can’t celebrate spring without also embracing rain, which makes Portland so green and fragrant in the first place. So, I’ve been trying to practice my rain-love while decked out in rain pants and raincoat.
Looking out the window after a brief afternoon rain shower, I see droplets of water hanging like globes from the sidewalk branches. Leaves, just newly sprouted, are thin and fragile, like silk, delicate and see-through. The light from newly-hatched sun glows green through each small leaf. It turns the tree all fuzzy-green. Behind the trees, the sky shines like the inside of an abalone shell, silver and tinged with swirling rainbows on the edges of clouds. The sun tries to bend around the edges of clouds so recently full of rain. What we end up seeing is the nexus of grey cloud surrounded by a shining circle of light. We try to look skyward, turn our eyes to this new brightness, but end up closing our eyes, just letting the warmth of the spring sun erase any memory of rain. Oh, so soon we foget, so soon we find ourselves unprepared, tricked by the fickleness of the spring sky.
Most people spend St. Patrick’s Day weekend drinking green beer. I spend it walking the wet, saturated earth of the Oneonta Trail. I don’t need green glasses to see my world tinted emerald with every step. We walk up the edge of a rocky gorge, trees precariously rooted but hanging over the edge, hundreds of feet above a rushing river. When we put out our hands to steady ourselves, our fingers brush wet leaves, disrupting raindrops resting complacently on leaves and stems. We reach out to pick new growth of Indian Plum bushes, little bites bursting with flavor like fresh cucumber in our mouths. We crouch low to see fiddlehead ferns, only a few inches tall, curliqued like fairy lamp posts soon to open into fans of delicate leaves. We lean against trees, growing out of the trail at angles. We dig up Douglas Fir cones rooted in mossy beds, as they decompose with the help of Fir Cone Mushrooms. We hold these specimens up to our faces in awe, smelling their decomposing richness, feeling the damp earth on our palms, wondering at these tiny mushroom flowers, delicate stems. But unbeknownst to us, their spidery mycelium reach many times their length, joining in on a community of underground mushroom parties miles long.
And the wildflowers, do they delight! The damp earth of our Northwest forests, covered with decomposing leaves left over from fall’s exodus, is now intersperced with tiny green spears, just bright tips at first, then longer stems, soon transforming into flowers white purple, red, pink. Loveliest of all, we find the first Trillium of the season. The pride of our Northwest forests, these flowers hold much power, even holding influence over our state laws! Lore about the Trillium is passed down from one nature-lover to the next at this time of year, usually in hushed tones at the first sighting of this revered flower. “Don’t pick the Trillium! It’s illegal!” we whisper reverently. It is certainly illegal in the informal world of hiker code, but it is true that picking a Trillium plant seriously injures the plant, as its true leaves are found below ground! Picking the visible “leaves” and flower that we can see dotting spongy ground below trees before the below-ground plant can fully mature could mean it is unable to produce food for the next year and years of recovery.
So instead, we look. We squat on the trail and look at these flowers, so fragile, so white, so full of hope for a less rainy future, drooping with the weight of each falling raindrop. We feel droplets falling on our heads as well. Our heards are full, the lush forest surrounds us, we have a view of the river deep below, and all we see is green. Who needs green beer and expensive admission into a crowded, sweaty bar when you can breathe in the dampness of a forest hard at work, feel the spongy moistness of moss-covered rocks, surprise a group of foraging Juncos into flight on our path, sip beer by a roaring creek ripe with foam, and sing Irish ballads as you walk along? St. Patrick would be proud.
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