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Monday, March 29, 2010: Finding Beauty Early in Spring

           How marvelous to be back up at the cabin with its wall of sliding glass doors and peaked windows.  I am mildly affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder and often compensate in our Ann Arbor home (which has more walls than windows and no windows at all on the south side) by sitting in front of my computer, basking in the light from a full spectrum bulb. I am learning to love the cabin, to welcome the natural light that floods the room.

         Of course, I am anxious to also check out the flower and tree situation up north. Last year was a busy year of planting and relocating trees and flowers.  My husband and I walk down to the river, he to check out river levels for fishing, me to anxiously search for signs of emerging flowers. Wooden steps carry us down the tree-lined bank to a small deck nearer the river. My heart leaps to see the early shoots of iris arising from the sun-warmed mud along the river bank. I was worried about last year’s transplant.

          I wander off the deck and north along the river bank, to an area where the previous year I noticed a small patch of skunk cabbage. I’m no big fan of skunk cabbage. In fact, up to now I’ve been indifferent, other than to note its presence. My husband gets sentimental about it because it lines the marshes around his favorite fishing holes.              

          My interest perks up when I discover skunk cabbage has a flower.  Sometime in spring, I should be able to find the flower rising just above the mud, the stems still buried below, the leaves not yet emerged. Skunk cabbage could be the earliest wildflower I’ve recorded at the cabin. I’m determined to add it to my photographic collection.  

            R. tries to convince me it’s too early in the season for any flower. What pollinating insects would be around to ensure survival of the species? It is only my fear of missing the early bloom that sends me searching.  I’m grinning wildly as I show my husband (a true doubting Thomas) my very first picture of a skunk cabbage flower.

           The outer spathe and inner spadix of the skunk cabbage flower are fascinating, and even R. is thrilled at the discovery.  I show R. all the emerging flowers that went unnoticed our first year at the cabin, and he becomes so excited that he offers to take me to a fishing spot thick with skunk cabbage. We put on knee boots and hike back to the swampy area, spending the next half hour wandering carefully about, calling excitedly to each other to come, check out this exceptionally large clump of flowers, or this new variation of mottled green, yellow and purple.



              Later, I will go on-line to learn that skunk cabbage is one of the few plants to generate its own heat. It uses its thermogenic talent to melt through snow and ice, which is why the flowers appear so early. A combination of low-level heat and odor attracts carrion insects for pollination. Evolution has worked its magic, because here are these amazing flowers, when the only other life showing up are the tips of iris and first leaves of other spring wildflowers.

                How often we overlook the plain and simple things around us. We walk past the common inhabitants of our world, our eye attracted by the louder and more fanciful. Without my camera, I would have ignored the lowly skunk cabbage, never noticed the party dress it puts on each spring to attract suitors. Today I bask in the wonder and magic. I will never think of skunk cabbage the same again.

Posted on Monday, March 29, 2010 at 08:22AM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | Comments1 Comment

Reader Comments (1)

i've seen plenty of skunk cabbage, but never the bloom.
there is something other-worldly about that flower, and it reminds me of a faberge egg, complete with surprise inside!
April 7, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterrraine

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