Rose hips and snail shell

Signs of Spring in Midwinter

I love winter in the mountains, and we have another big snow on the way. Due to the current warm and wet conditions, it will be one of those marvelous snows with fat, wafty-drifty snowflakes. I plan to stay home by the fire with hot chocolate and enjoy it all day long. The bright orange and red blossoms of our winter-blooming witch hazel will be stunning in the snow.

Winter-blooming witch hazel
Winter-blooming witch hazel
winter-blooming witch hazel 2
winter-blooming witch hazel 2

But today Rocky and the cats and I had a pre-snow walkabout and enjoyed, as we often do in February, the often-surprising signs of spring that are happening smack in the middle of winter.

The daffodils and day lilies are spiking up everywhere. The rumexes have already established cabbage-sized rosettes, and there’s even chickweed available; I could pick enough day lily shoots, rumex, and chickweed for a salad if I wanted to. The beech trees have their sharp bronze leaf buds out and I could add those to my edible greens as well. And the wild mountain mints are an inch high already. When I hike through the leaves where they are sprouting up en masse, the scent is startling and so pleasurable. In February!

Day lily spikes and mint (above twig)
Day lily spikes and mint (above twig)

Halfway through our hike, I stopped by to clean out the carved bowl spring. I have a marker stone placed to show the tiny side path down the streambank, and a bobcat had left a mouse fur-filled scat square in the middle of the stone. Bobcats will be obvious like that, letting everyone know this is their territory. I cleared it off, then went down the bank to the spring. The cats were delighted with all the twigs and branches I was dragging off, and pounced happily on lots of twitchy bits as I pulled them away from the carved bowl spring and tossed them across the creek. I thought I might find bones out there (I have before), but all the easily-found bone has by now been eaten for nutrients this winter. Once everything was tidy again, and the spirits of the water and the giant beech trees—whose roots cradle this spring—were honored and thanked, we pushed on.

The wild rose hips on their canes look terrible. I picked a few—getting plenty of snags and scratches for my trouble—and left them in a shell (which I brought back from an NC beach recently) as a late-winter offering alongside a vacant neohelix snailshell. The berries have withered and darkened and are mostly just seed by now, no reason to even save them for my tea. And yet those rose canes have already put out tiny, pale leaves!

Rose hips and snail shell
Rose hips and snail shell

The plants that persist so long into the winter—and here I’m thinking in particular of our showy orchids, which bloom in April and May but keep some greenery out long past the first snows—are entirely gone for a brief stretch, but will be here again very soon. I only know about the persistence of the wild orchid greens because I have flagged some that grow along our trails so that I don’t accidentally step on them when they are small. For the brief window of February and March, there’s nothing at all to show why those flags are there. And yet a month from now, everything will have transformed.

In fact, the changes have already begun.

 

 

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