Jim McGuire: Early blooms confirm spring


By Jim McGuire

Contributing columnist

Spring has finally and officially sprung! Hallelujah! Hereabouts, its sanctioned arrival occurs a bit before noon today with the fleeting passage of the vernal equinox.

There won’t be anything to witness. Equinoxes come and go without any visible fanfare—mere unseen quarter marks on time’s great wheel. But like their solstice counterparts in application to our modern scheme of annual reckoning, they serve as mileposts along the elliptical solar journey—designating both ends and beginnings of our seasons.

Not that we can count on the upcoming weather to automatically comply with this seasonal change.

Early-spring weather here in our corner of Ohio is especially vexing—fickle, unpredictable, erratic. It’s entirely possible to have sunshiny 70-degrees one day and snow flurries 24-hours later!

Still, the overall trend is one of encouraging improvement.

Though I’m not so foolish as to imagine I can accurately predict how things will unfold weather-wise over the next couple of weeks, I will say I’m hopeful we’ve seen—and felt!—the last dose of serious cold.

Putting this faith into action, I’ve now switched from cutting and splitting firewood to chopping and slashing new-growth honeysuckle sprouts on the steep roadside bank where dozens of lovely bloodroot will soon be emerging from the duff—turning the loamy slope white.

This past week the first of my various crocus—white, purple, yellow—popped up and showed their paintbox colors along the cottage’s southwest wall. Others, planted in more exposed locations around the yard, should begin to bloom at any time.

Too, all around the house and yard, clumps of sturdy green daffodil stalks have recently appeared. Only a few of their yellow or white flowers have yet managed to bloom, but when I took a reconnoitering outdoor ramble earlier this morning, I noted a number of blossoms looked to be on the verge of opening, ready to unfurl within hours. I’d be willing to bet I’ll have several dozen bright daffodils spreading their vernal good news by today’s end.

I’ve often wondered—how does anyone get through these early days of spring without crocus and daffodils? To me, these are two quintessential confirmations of the season—cherished and cheery touchstones that corroborate and reassure what my heart so desperately wants to believe has finally come to pass.

Of course, crocus and daffodils aren’t the earliest blooms around—wild or tame.

My up-the-street neighbor’s yard has been awash in white snowdrops for at least a month.

Then there’s the vast carpeting of yellow winter aconites in a woodsy corner along the road near the cottage. They’ve also been spreading their golden glow for several weeks.

Finally, during practically during every walk I’ve taken lately, I’ve noted the blue winks of quarter-inch size corn speedwell flowers along the trail. These miniature members of the Veronica genus are called weeds by some, and oft-maligned by homeowners who find them peeping up from their manicured lawns, but I count them as tiny treasures—botanical jewels for the sharp-eyed ambler.

A couple of weeks back, on one of the milder days, I made my annual pilgrimage to a certain boggy tangle a few miles distant to see the spot’s abundant skunk cabbage. After a half-mile slog along a slippery trail, I found them in profusion—nestled in the wet edge of a seasonal marsh.

The mottled and odd maroon spathes—resembling little monk’s hoods—poked up from the ooze in abundance. Those my sense of smell is not nearly as good as it once was, I could still catch an occasional stinky whiff, as if from a nearby bit of rotting meat.

Skunk cabbage is aptly named.

I never quite know what to make of skunk cabbage. They’re certainly a certified spring harbinger…but they look weird and smell bad, plus you have to get down in the mud on your hands and knees to actually see the knob-like structure called a spadix—a small and almost hidden fleshy spike inside the spathe which holds the petal-less flowers.

“Penance for the view,” an old friend once said.

A few days later, when I happened to be in Preble County, I detoured a couple of miles and made time to visit a small woods where a patch of rare snow trillium was in spectacular bloom.

Snow trillium have never been common here in the Buckeye State. Historically, these small trillium were found in only 11 of our 88 counties—most of them in the southwestern portion of Ohio. Locally, you’re most apt to find them on rich, wooded hillsides near the Stillwater and Miami rivers.

Yup. Spring has definitely sprung! It’s here—officially! So says both calendar and almanac.

But it has really been creeping in, edging our way, for several weeks. And a whole passel of early blooms confirms this glorious news!

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