Trilliums for Beth J

Dear Beth,

We have a tradition since you moved away. Every spring, I post pictures for you of the trilliums that bloom in my woods. I have the white ones and one very large red that you really like. They appear every year at the far corner of my property by the beaver pond. I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep my promise this year. You see, I broke my ankle in the Golan Heights in Israel near the Lebanon and Syria borders. No, I was not chased by spies or knocked over by a stray missile. I slipped on a rock and my rear end landed on my foot. I see my doctor on May 26 but he gave me instructions not to walk on uneven ground until then. I was afraid I would have to break my promise to you. But I’m stubborn and I don’t give up. The woods is all around me. There had to be trilliums closer.

I went up to my storage room and found my Vasque hiking boots that I had purchased at the Eastern Mountain Store in Lake Placid about 25 years ago. I reasoned that they would give my ankle support. The boots renewed memories of a long ago chapter in my life. They are leather, waterproof and had been carefully fitted to prevent “toe jam” (hiking term for toes sliding to the front of the boot on steep declines). I conquered eight of the Adirondack High Peaks in those boots and got my picture in The ADK 49’s Newsletter by being a member of the first all woman volunteer trail maintenance group.

For this adventure, I washed the laces and gave the leather a new coat of polish. I sprayed myself down with Deep Woods Off and put my camera and phone (I’m at that age where back up is important) in my fanny pack and hiked into my woods.

I was on a treasure hunt, a special mission to find something that was prized by you and me. I focused like I never focus before. I passed some of my beautiful rocks, they are granite, huge, and ancient.

I wondered if this is where my fox lived.

I took note of the dead tree sculptures.

Captivated, I was startled by what I incorrectly thought to be an owl in a tree branch rather close to my head.

I walked up to the big outcropping that my kids had so long ago named “dancing rock”.

I marvelled at the stand of hemlocks where the deer bedded during the winter and ate from the low hanging branches.

I paid my respects to a special tree. I used to bring my second class to my woods for a field trip and a nature scavenger hunt. In its youth, the tree had taught my students a vivid lesson with it roots clutched around a rock, a sure sign of perseverance and hope.

Beth, I decided to be a true explorer and go to some the parts of my woods I had never gone to before. My eyes scanned the ground searching for green or any color that contrasted with the dead brown leaves. I was rewarded but no trilliums.

I found patches of green that I stubbornly tried to wish into trilliums but I had done my research and they they didn’t have the right characteristics.

The word trillium contains the prefix “tri” that means three, three petals and three leaves. One of my Canadian nature books told the story of James Burns Spencer who after WWI wanted to make the trillium the flower of Canada since it symbolized purity, The Holy Trinity, and Great Britain which consisted of three parts, England, Scotland, and Ireland. He failed but in 1937 because of the efforts of some high school students the plant became the flower of the province of Ontario, Canada.

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I also learn that they appear in the time between thawing and the leafing out of deciduous trees. They are sensitive to temperature and grow in the woods because it is warmer there than in open fields. They like the the north side of sheltered areas. Away from the wind they rely on insects to pollinate them. The white trilliums attract insects to their beautiful flat landing strip flower petals. All trilliums have seeds. Ants love the nutritious green handles on the seeds and drop the rest. Birds also engage in spread with their droppings. It takes seven years for a seed to finally mature into plant with a flower. That’s why it is important to protect them by not picking them.

The red trilliums are a little different. They really like acid soil and they have a horrible smell. In fact, in some circles over the centuries they have been called “Stinking Benjamins”. They are pollinated by carrion insects, scavengers that feed on rotting remains.

Armed with these facts, I knew I wouldn’t find trilliums in the hemlocks and that also I need to look for sheltered places on the north side of things.

I spotted something green.

Beth, you can’t image how excited I was. Could it be?

Yes! I moved around carefully!

I even found a “Stinking Benjamin”!

In, fact, I found a few! And as they bloom, Beth, you will have your pictures!

Returning to my backyard, I knew my ankle was fine and I was elated. What an great experience. I guess I was still in a heightened state of awareness when I noticed something white and shiney at the base of small a tree.

I pulled at it and it came out of its place in the earth into my hand. It was a piece of quartz. And Beth, please excuse my poet’s soul, to me it seems to have the shape of a heart.

I have it next to me as I write this letter to you. It will be symbol of the beautiful day I had looking for flowers for a dear friend. To me, it will always represents my love of the woods and the gratitude I have for living in this part of the world. It expresses the bond I have with those in my community who live here, too. People who even when they move away like you have, Beth, still have The North Country in their hearts. Thank you so much, my friend.

Love, Joyce

Copyright@2020 The Autonomous Traveler All rights reserved.

Back off, Lady!!!

Spring is coming late to The North Country. I’m still waiting to take pictures of the shad bushes that, for about one week every year, break out in white blossoms. They seem to love to grow in rocky outcroppings and got their name for their coincidental appearance when the shad fish run. But this year the blossoms are late. Facebook tells me this since memory posts of the shad bushes from previous years have been appearing for weeks.

It’s been gray and rainy for the last few days. I haven’t accomplished much and this bothers me. Granted, I’ve been getting over a cold but I still feel guilty. But this morning was a new beginning, the sun was out, it wasn’t raining, and my cough was almost gone. My friend, Beth J., asks me every year to post pictures on Facebook of the spring trilliums that grow in my woods. Today was the day I would keep that promise and hike to the pond at the far end of my property to see if those lovely flowers were in bloom.

My woods was bear and sad looking. Old discarded leaves defeated by rain and snow had lost the crunching sound they had had in the fall.

I walked and walking taking note of the branches that had broken off in wind storms. It seemed winter was unwilling to let go. I followed the path across a field, through a stand of birches and, using familiar landmarks, found the trilium garden my woods always seems to gift to me each year.

Sheltered in a little rock crevice was the prized red trillium. Beth would be happy, it was particularly lovely this year.

I found the white trilliums. They seemed to be late.

But I found two flowers I had never noticed before, maybe because they only wished to show themselves after a hard winter or maybe they are the real early bloomers.

These little guys were hearty . They seemed to declare, “Back off, lady, we know what we are doing” They wanted me to know something. The last few days I had cursed the weather and wanted things on my terms, I wanted spring now. But nature doesn’t work that way. I once read a story in a book called The Zen of Gardening about a lady who planted a lilac bush where she wanted it without considering what was best for the plant. Of course, it died. David Thoreau once said, “Let us live life as deliberately as nature.” Everything in the natural world is where it is because it’s in the best place at the best time to live and grow. I need to realize that. And if we want to keep life going on this planet we better all respect that.

I went to the pond and was glad to see it filled again by all the rain we had gotten. But the beaver lodge was gone and I suspect the beavers had found better real estate in the new pond across the road from my house on my neighbor’s land.

I leaned on one of the rocks and in silence I enjoyed the beauty and peace of the moment. I was thrilled to be joined by a Canadian goose who drifted in the water in front of me.

I thought how some of my friends would laugh at my excitement in seeing such a common creature. Would it take a swan to give them as much joy? Maybe it’s true what they say, that its not the object but rather the attitude of the beholder that makes something beautiful.

I snapped pictures and at one point the goose spread out his wings. I missed the shot and tried everything to make him do it again. I whistled and tried to mimic his honk and even sang him the only goose song I knew, “Go Tell Aunt Rhody The Old Grey Goose is Dead”. I learned that song in the 1950’s in grade school. Between that kind of message and all the times we practiced hiding under our desks in case of nuclear attack, it’s no wonder I’m sometimes a little controlling!

Well, needless to say, none of it worked. And once again, nature was telling me to “Back off, Lady”. The goose was in control, not me.

I walked home satisfied with the pictures I had and the lesson I had learned.

Spring comes when it’s ready, nature’s time, not mine. I can accept that now. It will soon be here in all its glory and it will be magnificent!

Copyright 2019@theautonomoustraveler.com

A North Country Love Affair

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Author’s note: Since I wrote this piece a few years ago, I have to confess, The North Country and I now have an open relationship.  I go to Florida during the winter months.  But this is home, my base camp and I always return.   I’m here now. Unfortunately, the weatherman is predicting ice and sleet for this weekend. Ugh!

A North Country Love Affair

Being involved with the North Country is like being in a bad love affair. The summer woos me with warm breezes off  one of  The Great Lakes and the river. It offers me lush greens and sunlit days. It entices me with a multitude of lavish experiences: picnics under the trees, quiet moments on the shore, spectacular thunderstorms topped off with rainbows, and romantic interludes under the stars listening to the crickets and watching fireflies. It presents me with fantastic gifts: the sweet serenade of birds, the beauty of diamonds reflecting off the water, and bouquets wild flowers from its fields. The skilled lover pursues me, seizes my heart, and convinces me of its unwavering devotion. I fall in love!

In the fall, my intuition whispers to me that things are changing but my beloved is so
magnificence in its bight reds, oranges, and yellows that I ignore the signs. I am caught up in the joy and exhilaration of the splendor. But its moodiness erupts suddenly. It frosts the countryside but quickly hides the evidence with a morning smile. I am bewildered but I am soothed by memories of earlier carefree times. The suitor offers me even more gifts: ripe fruit from its orchards, fat orange pumpkins, and an Indian summer ablaze with color and sweet fragrances. There is still warmth but the winds blow colder and the clouds turn from white to gray. I soon realize that the glow of my summer romance is gone.

The North Country turns irritable. It shows its sunny smile less frequently and the cold storms come. The leaves have been blown to the ground and the tress stand in shame. My body and heart feel the coolness. I wonder how such a beautiful entity could change so much. At first, I make excuses and rationalize that things are not that bad and this is a passing thing. But the weather becomes angrier and angrier and then there is snow. I groan when I first see it dust the green grass. The snow piles up higher and higher. Some days the rain tap, taps on my window to play a cruel game of freeze tag and I find myself alone in the dark and I am afraid. I feel like a prisoner unable to leave my home. My relationship with this part of the world becomes a lovers’ quarrel. I wonder how I ever fell for the false promises and I resent being tricked.

I turn away from the monster and go to my neighbors, family and friends to complain. And soon everyone in the North Country becomes part of an enormous support group seeking comfort and strength to endure the abusive demon. Day after day, the heavens crash down on us but it seems that hidden between the flakes of white are angels sent to help us learn patience. We stop resisting, accept the harshness, and against the power of the villain, we become one. We check on each other’s safety. Our homes and community centers open to strangers who happen to be captured in the storms. We gather together to ice fish, quilt or share a hot cup of coffee. Moving anyway from our raging disappointment, we move closer to each other and we survive.

But a deep bitterness remains and as the winter goes on and on, I start to wonder if I should leave and never return. I need a more stable companion because I can’t take the terrible fighting any longer. And then suddenly, as if my tormentor knows my limits, it starts to smile. It knows it must be loving again to thaw my frozen heart. It drops its frigid demeanor and begins to melt some of the snow. It calls back the geese and commands the sap to run through the trees. I spy the first buds, the trilliums in the woods, the red winged blackbirds. and my first robin. I smell the freshness of new beginnings. My transformed lover returns to me the things I cherish, the waters shimmer and the sky is blue and clear again. I have an extraordinary sense of hope and all is forgiven. I am in love again!
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People who don’t know the North Counter always ask me why I stay. My answer acknowledges that, yes, the harsh weather is at times unbearable. But it is the contrasts between the cold and the warmth, the struggle and the peace, the light and the dark that keep me here. They provide a breathtaking intensity of experience that cannot be described. Like the first drink of water after a day in the desert or a hug after a long separation, the beautiful moments in the North Country are incredible. Not one of these times are ever taken for granted and the joy they bring permeate through the hearts and souls of the people who live here. During spring, summer, and fall, we live in paradise and everyday in those wonderful seasons are savored in a spirit of gratitude.

I also stay because of the other people who stay, hardy souls who have accepted the unpredictable temperament of the North Country. They have adapted and call this place home. In our towns, villages, and neighborhoods we have formed an unspoken allegiance to each other that require no laws or charter. We have formed a culture based on the ability to weather storms and we know instinctively what needs to be done. This community spirit has developed so strongly that it not only appears in inclement weather but at anytime anyone suffers a loss or comes up against a challenge. The question is never,“Should I help?”, but rather,“How can I help?”

And so I stay in this sometimes bad love affair with the North Country. At times, the relationship is very rocky but I have learned to accept the inconveniences. And with this spirit of forgiveness, I have come to truly appreciate the extraordinary power of this wonderful place and its great people. And isn’t that what love is all about?

Copyright 2018 @ The Autonomous Traveler.  All rights reserved