Monday, March 15, 2010

Spring Along The James

There was a pasqueflower in the pasture behind the house. We lived between the James River and Highway 1, and that my parents oriented the house toward the highway and not the river testifies to their values, which were typical of their rural farming neighbors: Access was more important than natural beauty. In fact, the 'dump' was down by the river, a pit just high enough onto the shore ridge to never be messed up by spring high water, where we dumped anything that could not be burned. It was not even buried to hide it; it was merely an open pile on the ground. And my mother was terrified of water, certain we were going to drown, so there were strict instructions to stay away from the shore. Still, I would go for long rambling walks back there, in the thigh-high grasses and short shrubby bushes. There were occasional swales where water drained from the land and had carved down a bit into the prairie, and on the near side of one of these, there was pasqueflower. I would ramble aimlessly back there day after day when I sensed it was about the right time, looking at the ground. When I found it, with its amazing fuzzy ruffled leaves and its soft purple glowing flower, I would try to count swales and judge who far back from the river bank it was, how near to the pasture fence it was, so that I could find it again the next year, or even the next week. But those judgements were never as accurate as I wished them to be, and inevitably, it would take much more searching to find it again. In that day, the way to knowledge was the World Book Encyclopedia. If it could not be found there, it remained a mystery, and since I knew it was a pasqueflower, it must have been in some entry there, maybe under flowers or prairie or spring flowers. I remember trying to memorize its features the first time I came upon it in order to look it up, then later finding a picture that was close but not exactly how it appeared in my memory. That was my first attempt to find it again, so that I could better compare the image in the book with the real plant, and be certain of its name. It gave me hope and joy to find that little promise of spring out there, just as it does today when I see the snowdrops and winter aconites along my driveway and the skunk cabbage at the local forest preserve. Yes, I has turned cold again since my muddy foray out there last week, and yes, we could even get snow again, but at least those early plants offer the promise that whatever bad weather is yet to come, it will not last. This winter WILL give way to the frothy pink days of summer then the golden yellow days of summer!

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