Monday, April 21, 2014

Falling Water

The water starts falling in earnest a few hours before sunset, and by the time we reach the North Carolina line, we are pretty sure we've seen the last we're going to see of the sun for the remainder of this trip. 

With the forest-filtered raindrops adding another layer of color and texture to the already-mottled greens of these sessile trillium leaves, we decide a rainy morning in the mountain wilds may not be such a bad thing after all.

We set out early with spring wildflowers on our minds, and in the mingled mists of water falling from the heights and even higher, we discover an oasis of spring centered on the pool at Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah National Forest.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit presides as every living thing is baptized in the cool, cleansing waters of the cascade and of the clouds.

Standing on the nearby slope, lily white heads bowed against the drizzle, wood anemones hold vigil, singly here, a small gathering there, attending the peaceful scene with humility and grace.

Robin's plantain by the dozens line the path, like so many golden lamplights, their purple rays penetrating the mist.

First one leaf-strewn slope and then another reveal mysterious green clad throngs, fed by yesterday's sunlight, watered today by heaven, lush and striking in their not-yet-blooming, leaving the traveler wondering, but not disappointed.

Sweet white violets, with their scarlet stems, lend their voices to the song of life that is an Appalachian spring;

as their dainty yellow brethren, with halberd leaves of freshest green, emerge nearby to join the chorus.

Erect trillium, trifoliate stalwart of stream side and mountain cove, bobs ever so slightly beneath the large, cold drops of life-giving rain, delicate pink petals conspicuous among its pallid companions.

Glowing golden faces, surrounded by golden rays, bearing sunlight in the midst of a steady rain, golden ragwort perhaps, a golden spring aster, months ahead of its late summer kin.

Showy orchis, star of many a wildflower show, energized by the brisk spring shower, moves imperceptibly closer to center stage; 

while foam flower flaunts its shaggy mane, drenched as it is with mountain dew.

And a single, solitary spark of life, not quite emerald green, subtended and nourished by the silent, sodden masses of Octobers past and today's replenishing moisture, disrupts the brown monotony of the forest floor.

Trillium dances with delight,

fern fronds unfurl, 

and some, like the mayapple, appear to covet the water more, twin leaves catching and holding every precious drop, trusting not in next week's weather.

Others seemingly shed each drop but the last, enshrouded in oilcloth against the incessant montane showers.

Falling water lands; trickles down; percolates around thirsty roots; 

gives shape and structure to new green leaves;

turgor and tension trumping for now the relentless weight of the mountain air,

new flower unfolds, a new seed is set, 
a new generation assured by the drops of falling water.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Passing through the Palmetto State

A brief foray into South Carolina was rewarded with some cool new experiences and a surprise visit with an old friend from Bath and his daughter. 
While touring Clemson with Jay, we were greeted on the steps of the campus visitors' center by this nesting American Robin.

We'd never seen a robin (or any other bird, for that matter) nesting in a palmetto before, but we're guessing that's just how they roll in the Palmetto State.

Bill still coated with red clay from foraging in the lawn out front, our feathered greeter appeared rather smug about its prime nesting site, particularly once the rain began in earnest and the frond above kept bird and the nest completely dry.

After an all-too-brief visit with Bill Zachman and his daughter, we set out for the Old North State in a steady drizzle, hoping to catch a few mountain wildflowers on Saturday before heading for home. If this stand of trillium on a roadside bank is any indication of what awaits, there's an exciting (and wet) day ahead for the Hoot Owl Karma clan...

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Butterfly or the Flower?

Which came first, she wondered?

April is only a few days old, no hint of green in the centipede just yet...

but yesterday the field pansies passed beyond green, an explosion of violet and purple and gold;

and today, perched on the lip of lovely Viola bicolor, drinking deeply of her nectar, a butterfly, falcate orangetip.

Which came first, she pondered half aloud, the flower or the butterfly...

the butterfly or the flower?

Good question. 

And, as with all good questions, the answer is elusive. 


A bit like the year's first butterfly, or the dainty little blossoms of the early wild pansies.

Answers are bit overrated, she decides.

The wondering's the important thing.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

April Gold

Golden yellow is the color of April in central Carolina. 
Most of the out of doors seems entwined in the glowing golden tendrils of Carolina jessamine, and everything else is coated in the golden yellow pollen of the pines.

Outcrops of shale, utility poles, fenceposts and every available tree become a trellis for this lovely sweet-scented climber, and no milestone passes without a sighting as the travelers make their way north toward Chapel Hill.  

With the golden sunshine comes heat, warmth enough to disrupt the reptiles' winter-induced torpor, and this recently roused northern water snake crosses the travelers' path in rural Chatham County.

After an assist across the blacktop and down to the bank of the stream, it responds with its best cottonmouth imitation,

flattening its head and striking repeatedly, all the while releasing an odiferous musk most foul. 

Taking this poor display of gratitude in stride, the travelers move on toward the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill.

Upon setting out to explore the Garden's nature trails, another reptile encounter, this time a beautiful but retiring female five-lined skink.

The trail entrance is guarded on the other side by a thicket of sweet shrub, whose pollen-dusted blossoms are just beginning to waft their luscious fruity scent onto the breeze.

Just down the slope, closer to the creek, the red buckeye, green leaves sporting their own thin coat of yellow pollen, nears full bloom itself.

Joining the ubiquitous spring beauty in the deep rich soil of the bottomlands, wild blue phlox adds its color to the mix.

And rising from a logjam of debris wedged against the base of a stream-side tree, one of the sessile trilliums, a toadshade, bursts forth too, in bloom.

Casting long shadows in the morning sun, star chickweed rises up on hairy stalks by the trailside,

and a gathering of azure bluets, or quaker ladies, assembles next to an exposed root in the middle of the trail.

A bit further up the slope and a few feet above the forest floor, a singular cluster of pinxster azalea blossoms adds its name to the list of notables on this golden April jaunt.

A less-reticent male skink poses patiently for a picture as we pass his perch on the mossy bark,

and a keen-eyed traveler spots a curiously shaped fungus at the base of the lizard's tree.

First one, then another pollen-dusted yellow morel comes into view, hiding in plain sight among last year's leaves and sweet gum balls.

April gold, indeed...

A Moment in the Sun

A mature deciduous forest canopy is a verdant sunscreen in summer, millions of tiny green solar panels, providing life-giving energy to the very forest itself, oaks and maples and hickories and poplars and beeches and sweet gums, year after year, decade upon decade. At summer's height, the ancient forest floor, over-flown by thousands of thousands of wind-swiveling photosynthesizing sun seekers may see sun only in the interstices, a dappling here and drizzle there.

But in winter and early spring, the forest floor is a brighter spot, with life-giving light splashing down through barren branches and around towering trunks, so that spring-blooming wildflowers can have their moment in the sun . These impressive trout lilies are a month behind their San Lee Park sisters, but still thriving in the few remaining weeks of open canopy in the forest where they live.

All along the woodland path, trodden clear by the deer and yesterday's traveler, the spring beauty and rue anemone reflect the sun's warm rays from delicate blossoms of white and pink.

A chilly April breeze percolates through the still leafless boughs of the forest giants, animating these lovely splashes of light in a gently swaying celebration of life. 

A solitary foamflower runs its ivory tipped standard up the mast, with another not far behind; 

This is spring beauty's show, without a doubt, but she's a most gracious star, sharing the stage with a host of understudies.

These delicate twins say all that needs saying with regards to the etymology of Claytonia's common name...

As our path brings us closer to wood's far margins, we bid the flowers adieu; 

not knowing whether our journey will bring us nigh again this spring, 

but content with this brief communion, immersed again in our nature;

fellow creatures, sharing a moment in the sun.