Thursday, March 24, 2011

Geese, Robins and Coltsfoot

It was so cold last night that it killed the lettuce seedlings in my solar-heated greenhouse. Tonight should see temps in the teens, a frightfully disheartening situation at a time when spring should have already spring.

But wait a minute. Just because we humans judge seasons by certain indicators, plants, animals, birds and fish have a totally different set of criteria to mark and guide their movements and actions.

For instance, huge flocks of robins arrived in Waldo a few days ago, just ahead of that big snowstorm. I always feel sorry for them when something like this happens, but on the other hand, songbirds are a tough lot. They’ll make out okay. And besides, birds need to arrive as soon as possible in order to begin the process of claiming territories, choosing a mate and so on. Also, if a nesting goes awry, an early bird often has time to try again.

Likewise Canada geese. This morning, a lone goose flew over my house at exactly 5:26 a.m. Each year one or two geese do their fly-by, telling me that despite cold, snow and ice, the season has begun. I suspect that the poor goose that I heard this morning will have to seek running water for a while, since all the lakes and ponds are still solidly frozen.

While spring is running late this year, it was well ahead of schedule last year. In fact, coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara was in bloom at this time last year. These are those bright yellow flowers that grow along roadsides, especially on gravel banks and along streams. Seeing the mass of yellow coltsfoot flowers, some people erroneously assume that dandelions are in bloom.

While coltsfoot has some medicinal uses, I feel that its true value lies in its simple beauty. The first colorful wildflower of spring does not need to claim any more attributes. Simply being there for us to enjoy is quite enough, thank you.

Later in the season, coltsfoot flowers and flower stalks die back, following which the leaves appear. I’ll try and remember to take some photos of them and post them here.

So keep an eye out for the brilliant-yellow blossoms of coltsfoot, a wild Maine plant that I very much admire.

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