He finally emerged from his funk by the end of his book, but he was right about one thing – life is short. And, it seems to me, the older we get, the shorter life becomes – a sentence that will make no sense to anyone under 30 and perfect sense to anyone over 50.
I recall Neil Diamond’s song from the early 70’s called “Done Too Soon.” He had the same message: We have sweated beneath the same sun, looked up at wonder at the same moon, and wept when it was all done, for being done too soon.
So life is short for us humans, but even shorter for the spring ephemerals growing in the soil of the mountains. Spring ephemerals? Yes, from the Greek word “ephemeros” meaning transitory or short-lived.
There are many transitions and cycles in nature. For instance, in the long run, we can watch an abandoned field fill up with briers and weeds, to be followed by cedar trees (the “pioneer” species in this part of the country), and eventually (decades later) by hardwoods such as oak, hickory, and maple. Or, we can watch beavers dam a creek, creating a pond, which ultimately fills with dirt and becomes a meadow. Shorter, quicker transitions are a bit more visible to us, the most obvious being the greening and budding of spring or the colors of fall ending in the browns and grays of bare trees.
But within these cycles are smaller transitions, such as the rise and fall of spring ephemerals. Every spring in the Smoky Mountains there is a window of opportunity, roughly corresponding to the month of April, in which the sun and warming temperatures heat the ground enough to call forth the sun-loving wildflowers, starting with Spring Beauties, Hepatica, and Bloodroot. Because these are sun-loving plants, they have to move quickly and confidently. No distractions or dilly-dallying. They must bloom and bear seeds in those few weeks in which the temperatures are rising and early spring is in the air, but before the leaves on the trees have fully emerged to block out the sun, creating the deep, dark, shady woods that we associate with late spring and summer. Shade is fine for the shade-loving plants of summer forests, but not for the spring ephemerals of April. They love the sunshine and so must get on with their lives before the deep shade overwhelms their world. It’s a microcosmic version of climate change.
So, April is the month of these spring ephemerals. And there are dozens of them that come and go in rapid succession: Spring Beauties, Hepatica, Bloodroot, Trout Lilies, Phacelia, Bishops Cap, Trilliums, Wild Geraniums, Little Brown Jugs, Lady’s Slippers. Plus a few dozen others. They come and go in wave after wave, ebbing and flowing, as relentless as the ocean swells, as varied as a fireworks show. It’s quite a performance.
|Dwarf Crested Iris|
But the real show – one of the best in the park – is Porters Creek. [To be continued.]