Early Risers

As I move slowly through the woods at dawn, I could easily be mistaken for a monk going about some sort of solemn devotionals. My pace is labored and my head is down and there is a mournful aspect about my movements. But it is not the burden of my sins and the woes of the world that have me bent over with my eyes cast down.

What I’m doing is … looking for flowers. For harbingers of Spring and the joy it brings. It takes a while for the New England woods to come to life. In our part of Vermont you start thinking about it a long time before it happens. And you look for signs. The pussy willows showing along the bank of the swollen streams. The swelling of the buds on the maple trees. And, for me, the blooming of the beautiful, delicate little flowers that stay close to the ground, almost as though they are afraid to stick their heads up and provoke a return of the ice and snow that have covered the ground for so long now.

I’m out looking for turkeys—listening for them, actually—so it is mid-to-late April. The ground is both soggy and barren. Nothing much more than a layer of dead and decaying leaves, held together in soggy clumps. It is dreary and lifeless. Then, one day, coming as surprise, I’ll see hepatica blossoms. Small, little purple flowers. If you wanted to assign human qualities to them, then you would call them shy. Perhaps because they are first.

Others follow quickly. Among them, bloodroot, marsh marigold, wood anemone and one called a spring beauty. The bloodroot is especially beguiling. It is tiny and plainly fragile but also, with its dazzling white petals, not bashful. Growing out of the dead earth and sticking its face above the matted leaves, it seems to be exuberantly celebrating its own blooming and the arrival of spring.

There are others and, of them, I suppose my “favorite” would be the wake robin. Which is properly a red trillium but the only people who call it that are the sort who routinely use the metric system in calculating distance.

The petals of this little flower are a kind of deep red, almost oxblood in color and they can’t be confused with anything else you see on the ground. They are the exhibitionists of the early spring, wildflower bouquet that is long in coming but easy to find. You just need to know where to look.

Which would be … down. At your feet. Where the earth is coming back to life.

—Geoffrey Norman