As I write this, it is snowing, but on the 7th of March when I first saw this stuff, it was toasty warm. Now, I didn't grow up knowing skunk cabbage, but I saw it in my sister's photos for the last few springs while she was living in Boston. She called it a harbinger of spring. On Moores Creek, our first harbinger spring celebrants are the Spring peepers that start around Valentine's Day, in Colorado the Oregon grape usually peeps out from under the snow, a very different and more fragrant skunk cabbage sprung up in cold streams in Idaho, and this year while on a run through Sapsucker Woods, the eastern skunk cabbage caught my eye and pulled me over the boardwalk and into a low squat to watch for pollinators. Bees zoomed in and out with powerful looking bee thighs laden with yellow pollen.
Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) emerges early in spring through snow and the part that you see first (and the part in the photos below) is the flower. The leaves emerge later in the spring. Inside of the mottled magenta spathe is the spadix.
It is called skunk cabbage because it produces a foul smell when the plant is disturbed. The smell attracts pollinators (mainly flies, stoneflies and bees). Why does this funk work to lure pollinators in? The insects aren't seeking out foul smelling food, they are seeking out a place for their eggs to be placed, which is usually a potent carcass or a stinky pile of poo. While being tricked into this plant smelling of poo or rotting flesh, they inadvertently pollinate it! Plant production of the insect-luring funk has actually evolved independently in at least five different families. The smell is is from chemicals that contain sulfury dimethyl disulfide.
Also, thermogenesis! I did not know this and the discovery knocked my socks right off! These plants can generate heat. Generating your own heat = harbinger of spring. My husband, raised in Massachusetts, knew this fact. There is a bit of theory about why they do this, but the heat likely helps spread the smell to pollinators. Some people hypothesize that the heat generated is meant to melt the snow and ice, but because many of these plants that use thermogenesis are found in the tropics that theory has less support. Because of that peeping out of the snow quality, we do see them before we see other things lurking under snow blankets.
After way too many months at the lab without exploring the trails, I finally started with the onset of longer days. On a recent run, I happened upon the Andy Goldsworthy sculpture just as the sun was coming into contact with the horizon. As much as I loved him as a teen, and tried to re-create his style on rocky riverbanks and forest floors, I had no idea how much precision he brings to his work. This cairn is overwhelmingly perfectly puzzle pieced together.
Last weekend, we found more skunk cabbage on the Cayuga Trail. Eliot braved a foot soak in Fall Creek and then we stopped at Hopshire for some absolutely wonderful beer (Acer's Wild brewed with New York maple syrup and Cascade hops) and picnic table seating while looking at one of our favorite oaks and talking about the olden days of field biology. For now, we just need to make sure we are getting to the woods as much as possible and crouching low for peeks at pollen-laden powerful thighs.
Saturday before last would have been Jamie's 40th Birthday. Here we are up at Aunt Della's pond doing some sort of cheer. Lindsay is in the stroller, Jon is in front of us, Becky to my right and Jamie to her right. Although Jon and Lindsay were in front, it was Jamie who was leading us. I know that hillside well and I know that family too. The Wilsons live a mile away, Judy is my mom's best friend and they worked together as social workers for years. Warren Wilson was born and grew up in the home that my parents still live in.
I may have only had twelve years with Jamie, but those are the important years for conditioning and imprinting. I watched she and my sister form a bond worthy of jealousy, but instead of jealously, it felt like an extension of our family. Becky and Jamie taught me about adventure and exploration. Between our families and the mile of backroad, Moores Creek, cattle fields, and the dairy farm between us, there were summer days, snow days, and evenings of fun to be had. We developed elaborate stories that kept us and any visiting cousins and friends well-entertained. There were tree houses, sand pits, tobacco barn clubhouses, seemingly wild horses, scary bulls, four wheeler adventures, ten-speed biking excursions, and mud masks from the pond. Jamie was a leader and I wish I could have seen all of the amazing things she would have done with her life.
We miss her daily and are inspired by pondering what she would think of us and how we are choosing to live our lives.
Yesterday was Dad's Birthday and he marked it with a dip in the pond. A Baptism in Spring peeper territory, in the vessel that taught us three kids how to swim, to dive, to torpedo bravely to the scary bottom to retrieve potent anaerobic slate gray mud to smear on ourselves in mud fight or spa treatment, to take barbies and ninja turtles on Marine Biology expeditions, to bravely release our little hands from the zip line or trapeze that dad strung across the pond for us, to swim confidently at night while star gazing, to quickly dunk into post Thanksgiving sweat lodge, to teach Gracie confidence in the water, to teach us kayaking and canoeing, to teach us a skill we all hold dear and to celebrate and relax in after weddings, dock buildings, surgeries, long days at work or school or summer break. This pond is a sacred place. I'm so grateful to be the product of both the parents and the place. #birthdayswim #baptismbynature
First are some photos from Ellis Hollow Nature Preserve two weekends ago in the sun. I did the longer loop and then Eliot met me half way after basketball. That little fairy house in the fourth photo down was gone when I went back for a run on Monday. I like the idea of ephemeral fairy houses. Many of the trees have ice between the furrows of their bark. It is dark and gem-like. The ice on the creek has these very human-like veins of crystal ice.
On Sunday, I went to check out some baby goats and pigs with an Earlham friend at the farm of some other Earlham friends. There's not much in the world like Earham friends. We were slightly surprised by the giantess of the mama pigs. They were very friendly and I later realized I had a rotten apple in my bag, which was really encouraging their friendliness.
Sunday night, we tried to make ravioli and they were a total flop.
One photo from a hike at Roy H. Park Nature Preserve. There are really awesome boardwalks and lots of beaver activity.
Friday after work, I stopped at home to grab my real camera before a quick hike around Ringwood Nature Preserve. I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to have some light to explore with after work. Anybody know what the tree is with the chunky bark down there?
Last Saturday at Ellis Hollow for ice chasing.
Sunday the temps reached 57, so I turned the heat off, ignored the fire and opened the doors to let some fresh air in. Some dust bunnies ran for the back door in seconds flat. I worked in the yard, went for a nice and slow run and had a picnic outside. Don't be fooled by those veggies. Eliot was away for the weekend, so I found myself eating things like Doritos for lunch and vegan chicken nuggets and wine for dinner while catching up on Downton Abbey. Apparently, it doesn't take very long for me to forget how to live alone.