Saturday, March 19, 2016

The springing of the year*

I have not been out walking as much as I would have liked, this month. My first park-venture in weeks was to Prospect Park, to see what is happening in this very strange early spring. Above, Lonicera fragrantissima (which it is) - winter honeysuckle. A gorgeous shrub now, non-descript in summer, and very invasive in general. The flowers would be exceptional, caught in an overnight or fermented infusion.

Catkins that I do not recognize, above. A picture of the bark would help, of course. Sorry.

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) flowers! This means that the woods in Inwood are alight, right now. I do miss that about living in Harlem - a quick subway ride up to Inwood Hill Park, or a 15 minute walk to Central Park's North Woods. Now, Inwood is 50 minutes way, at least.

Close, but different. Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), a dogwood from eastern Europe. Warmer yellow, with small flowers in umbels.

Ugh, nasty man. Says something, then speeds off. Where's the pepper spray when you need it? 

Invasive and yummy field garlic - no, I didn't collect any. 

A surprise (right after a second nasty man encounter - this one elderly and lurking in the woods we cleaned for that year; a voyeur, hoping for juiciness; I'll spare you the details). But I looked down, and there were these tiny bloodroot flowers. Sanguinaria canadensis. They will be at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, too, easier to see, in the Native Garden.

I walked some more, meeting early chipmunks and returned robins rooting in the leaf litter, and spotting the first tender leaves of elderberry bushes. Lots of litter. And emerging at last in the north, in time for my camera battery to die and my phone to take over:

I cut west and walked home down the streets of Park Slope, past the earliest of cherries, choosing Union to take me home, over the Gowanus ("It doesn't look so bad," said a woman to her friend, watching the water where beige foam spewed from a pipe, to be kept contained behind a floating boom).

* The Springing of the Year - the title of this post is also the title of a uniquely interesting and beautiful book by Gillian Rattray, who kept a water colour-illustrated journal of her observations of plant and animal life on a family farm in then Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal), South Africa. I read it as a teenager (it still lives in my Cape Town bedroom). Tragedy later visited the family - her grown son was murdered in the land she loved, not foreshadowed in her botanical illustrations and records of country life.


  1. Love Lonicera fragrantissima, and that bloodroot is adorable - I did not realize they were that early!

  2. Catkins look like hornbeam, at a glance.

  3. Thank you for the Rattray article Marie. Almost everything I know about South Africa I've learned from you.
    Sorry about the nasty men in the park. My morning would have been ruined.

  4. I do not for one second miss the horrible men that lurk on the NYC streets. Up here in the mountains I can walk in peace without being accosted by ugliness. Still, the city girl lives in me, and I never let down my guard...and I always lock my doors and my car!

  5. The mystery catkins don't ring any bells, but the stems and buds remind me of sweet birch (Betula lenta). I suspect you know that one already, though, so must not be it. If you're not familiar, scrape the bark at the end of the stem and smell it - should smell like root beer. The photo is striking!


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