Spring is so fleeting in Maine. Oh, I know, it lasts the usual three months and the beginning and ending overlap with its seasonal partners, but really . . . one must take time to pause and watch or you’ll miss the most amazing action that occurs in slow motion right outside the window–and beyond.
Jinny Mae and I drove beyond today to catch a glimpse of this most splendid season.
Among the offerings, red trillium also known as stinking Benjamin. The Benjamin part is from benzoin, a mid-16th century word derived from the French benjoin, that refers to “a fragrant gum resin obtained from a tropical tree of eastern Asia, used in medicines, perfumes, and incense.” It’s been tagged “stinking” because its nodding flower has an unpleasant odor. We didn’t bother to sniff. We were too busy being wowed by the fact that it surrounded us in great number.
That smell, however, is of extreme importance. Along with the flashy coloration, the odor helps to attract pollinators–green flesh-flies that prefer to lay their eggs on rotting meat. Though this isn’t the perfect nursery, the flies assist the plant on the procreative end. And in this spot, stinking Benjamin rules, but I prefer to think of it as red trillium.
Even from the backside, its design is one to behold.
Equally abundant were the leafy structures of false hellebore.
I was mesmerized by its pattern.
Unlike the trillium, wood anemones have little scent.
Their graceful heads drooped, perhaps because the day threatened rain.
The offerings included sessile-leaved bellwort (aka wild oats),
Dutchman’s breeches with leaves as interesting as their flowers,
the delicate white flowers of dwarf ginseng,
and zigzag pattern of clasping twisted stalk.
Its key features are minutely-toothed leaf margins, stalkless leaves that clasp the stem, and flowers dangling below.
The flowers hadn’t opened, but the closer we got, the more we appreciated its finer details.
Ever so slowly, as is the case in all things, hobblebush flowers began to bloom.
Outer sterile flowers form a ring around the delicate inner flowers that are fertile. Nature has a way of protecting its own.
When we first spotted the fluff ball of seeds across the brook, we thought we were looking at dandelions. And then we saw the scaled stalks and lack of leaves. Coltsfoot it is.
It wasn’t just the flowers that had us getting down on our hands and knees. There was the brownish wool covering of the cinnamon fern.
And the hairless ostrich fern
with its crook-shaped crosier, reminiscent of a bishop’s staff.
But my favorite today was one I’d never noticed before.
Oh, I know it’s a Christmas fern, but the tightly-wound, silvery-scaled crosiers were new to me. It was yet another chance for us to wonder how we could have missed something that’s been here all along.
And then we looked up. Well, sort of up. Striped maple leaves slowly opened in the understory.
And have you ever noticed that young red maples are a tad hairy along the margin?
Even hairer, beech leaves.
All winter long, bud scales enclosed leaves that are now slowly emerging.
They’re absolutely beautiful in their plaited and hairy state.
What leaves me wondering (ah, a pun), is the fact that these leaves are so hairy. It seems the hairs are intended to keep insects and others at bay.
And yet, it won’t be long before the insects discover that beech leaves make a good meal and home.
Speaking of insects, we found a ladybug presumably feeding on aphids–already. So why do ladybugs sport bright orange or red color and distinctive spots? To make them unappealing to predators. They can secrete a foul-tasting fluid from their leg joints–the coloring is therefore intended to shout out, “I taste awful.”
And Jinny Mae sported her own insect–a Mayfly, known to be more fleeting than spring, landed on her jacket. Oh, and did I mention the black flies? They swarmed our faces, but we practiced mind over matter.
We were in one of the most beautiful places on Earth,
as evidenced by brook, pond and mountains beyond.
And then there was the gorge.
As we watched the water rush through, we gave thanks for a day spent moving in slo-mo to take in all that this fleeting season has to offer in its spring ephemerals.