Spring hath Sprung

Unspeakable tenderness

Last weekend was quite nice; we were able to host a small, first night Passover seder with my vaccinated mom and a couple of vaccinated friends; it was the first time others had eaten dinner at our house in over a year. As has become tradition for us during our Seder, we discussed signs of spring we had seen. Here’s my short list.

Camas shoots in our front yard - Many years ago, I planted a few bulbs of this edible lily. Ever since we have been blessed by the blue flowers, which can grow so abundantly that “on first sight I could have sworn it [a field of them] was water,” wrote Meriwether Lewis in 1806. Later he added another curious effect of the plant. According to David Douglas’s Journal entry from April 8, 1825: “Lewis observes that when eaten in a large quantity they occasion bowel complaints. This I am not aware of, but assuredly they produce flatulence: when in the Indian hut I was almost blown out by strength of wind.” Oh my.

Fallen catkins - On recent hike in Carkeek Park, we found what looked like scores of four-inch-long green worms dotting the trail. Known as catkins, they were the fallen male and female flowers of red alders, which grow on separate dangling spikes and give the trees a festive look. Because they are pioneer species that quickly colonize disturbed habitat, alders (along with their fellow pioneer species bigleaf maple) may have an unusual claim for a native plant in Seattle. They may be more abundant and wide-spread at present than they were before European settlers arrived and began disturbing the forest. 

Nest building - I have regularly been seeing a variety of birds ferrying material for nests, particularly larger birds, such as crows and bald eagles, toting sticks. My favorite nest is one outside my window, high atop a broken off limb of a birch tree. It’s occupied by a pair of black-capped chickadees, perpetual motion birds constantly bopping about in search of insects. I like them because they have one of the few bird calls—chick-a-dee-dee-dee—that I can identify. The great naturalist John Burroughs described their voice as “full of unspeakable tenderness and fidelity.”

Spring tides - Twice each lunar month at full and and new moons, when the sun, moon, and earth are in alignment, the average high tide is higher. Known by some as King, and by most as spring tides, the name derives from the tide “springing forth,” not because of their seasonal timing; they occur all year. What makes the most recent spring tide so fascinating is that it resulted in an 18-inch higher tide in the Suez Canal, which facilitated the dislodging of the Ever Given. In case you wondered (and I know you do) about the size of the ship relative to Puget Sound and the Space Needle, here’s a little graphic I made.

Weeds - In our lovely and moist climate, weeds seem to pop out of the ground fully formed, which leads to what I have long considered to be a perverse contradiction. I don’t know if it’s my anal nature, the good feeling I obtain by thinking that I am getting a job done, an excuse to be outside, or that I think that I am benefiting native plants, but whenever the weeds arise I go forth and kill them. Shouldn’t I be celebrating the exuberance and tenacity of these plants, instead of ripping them up? What harm are they doing? I am sure that they enrich the lives of some plant, fungi, animal, or bacteria and that our yard can tolerate their brief existence. Perhaps someday I will embrace them but for now they mostly end up in the compost bin, yet another side of spring.

Skunk cabbage - Long one of my favorite plants, skunk cabbage erupts out of sodden ground to produce shiny green leaves tropical in their extravagance. Of equal delight is the lemon-yellow spathe, or hood, that surrounds the flowering stalk, or spadix. The 8- to 10-inch long hood provides another common name, swamp lantern. Although eaten by the Indigenous people of the region, skunk cabbage is not generally relished by most, primarily because of the leave’s needle-shaped crystals of calcium oxalate, which cause “those who eat it to suffer transcendent pain,” writes botanist Arthur Lee Jacobson.

If you happen to see a copy of the March/April issue of Seattle magazine, you can find an excerpt from Homewaters. You’ll learn about a beast whose flesh is “too rich to permit of regular stuffing or gormandizing.”

May 3 - Book launch through SPL/Elliott Bay Books. Click here for info on how to register.

Books are on the way to stores, and to me, in case you want to order one or more!

And, I am honored to be an ambassador for the UW Libraries for the Huskies Giving Day on April 8. The libraries have been an essential resource for my writing so I am pleased to be able to help support them.