In the Woods :: Spring Ephemerals

In the Woods :: Spring Ephemerals

Spring here is at first so wary,
And then so spare that even the birds act like strangers,
Trying out the strange air with a hesitant chirp or two,
And then subsiding. But the season intensifies by degrees,
Imperceptibly, while the colors deepen out of memory,
The flowers bloom and the thick leaves gleam in the sunlight . . .

—from “The Late Wisconsin Spring” by John Koethe

* * *

Then shall the trees of the wood sing for joy before the Lord . . .
—1 Chronicles 16:33

One must have impeccable timing if one wants to see the spring ephemerals—the delicate flowers that appear on the forest floor in early spring and vanish seemingly overnight. We were out on the trails last week and only the speckled leaves of the trout-lily were showing. But, I knew the blooms wouldn’t be far behind, and I remembered from previous years that they show up right when I can see (from my kitchen window) the trees’ new leaves foaming green on the other side of the pond. And, that’s what I saw today, so I knew it was time for a walk in the woods.

In reality it could be dumb luck, but all the old favorites were on display: Jack-in-the-pulpit, mayapple, wake-robin, violet, and trout-lily. There were a few wild oats, too, and everywhere we looked the golden spiral of a fern leaf was unfurling. One plant new to me this year is the two-leafed toothwort or crinkleroot—apparently it’s a member of the mustard family and tastes a bit like horseradish. I tend to leave plants where they’re rooted, but it’s always fun to take pictures and then learn about them later.

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Plant specimen I.D.’s (from top): fern, jack-in-the-pulpit, crinkleroot, fern (close-up), mayapple, wake-robin, common blue violet, trout-lily, trout-lily (close-up).

Cross-posted at my personal blog: In the Woods // Spring Ephemerals

Angels Among Us

Angels Among Us

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. . . each soul is both a kingdom in itself
And part of some incorporating whole that
Feels and has a face and lets it live forever . . .
. . . an unseen presence
Tracing out the contours of a world erased . . .


—from “Falling Water” by John Koethe

The New England Aster is a lovely wildflower. Its scientific name, Aster novae-angliae, employs the latin root aster or star to gesture toward the frame of delicate petals that radiate from each golden face. Asters are blooming right now where I live, and probably inherited their common name—Michaelmas daisy—from a cousin that grows in Europe and blooms around the same time—that is, the Michaelmas season.

The Michaelmas daisy is startlingly beautiful to behold and yet its splendor so often goes unseen. Its colors are striking, and range from deep purple, to pink, to a glorious pale lavender. And, still, as often as not we walk—or drive—right past them. They flourish in thickets of weeds that gird disused industrial buildings, in clumps of foliage that spring up in abandoned lots, along the sunlit edges of highways and byways, concealed in out-of-the-way places where no one thinks to look for beauty. There they wait in the shadows of showier blooms, patiently growing taller as the summer months tick along, before they suddenly burst into color just as the growing year comes to an end. They are stars on Earth, the last glorious rays of warmth and light in a darkening world.

As the name suggests, the Michaelmas daisy blooms simultaneously with the Church’s annual celebration of angels, the Feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels (or St. Michael and All Angels), also known as Michaelmas (pron. Mick-el-mas). It is one of my favorite feast days of the Church year. We are so often preoccupied with human endeavors, and it’s wonderful to take a whole day and remember that we’re not alone down here. More than ever, we need the angels’ guidance and protection—St. Michael, ora pro nobis (pray for us)!

Like the Michaelmas daisy hiding in plain sight the angels also are hidden from us, though their work is visible in our lives if we look for it. St. Jerome, in his commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew, wrote, ” . . . How great the dignity of the soul, since each one has from his birth an angel commissioned to guard it.” It is reassuring to know that despite the strife, devastating loneliness, frustration, disappointment, and anguish that seems to accompany modern life, there are heavenly beings watching over us and aiding us in our struggles.

Even if we can’t see something, can we be sure it doesn’t exist? Does the Michaelmas daisy not bloom in spite of our disregard for it? We might someday catch a glimpse of an angel—perhaps in the same way we might see the flash of purple petals on a hillside in early autumn as we drive by—but not be quite sure just exactly what it was that we saw. Once I learned to see the Michaelmas daisy, I could see them everywhere. Perhaps the same is true of angels; we simply need to learn how to see them.

Yes, I believe that angels are among us—do you?

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Meditation :: The Advent Wreath

Meditation :: The Advent Wreath

Dank fens of cedar; hemlock-branches gray
With trees and trail of mosses, wringing-wet;
Beds of the black pitchpine in dead leaves set
Whose wasted red has wasted to white away;

Why hold ye so my heart, nor dimly let
Through your deep leaves the light of yesterday . . .
Is it that in your darkness, shut from strife,
The bread of tears becomes the bread of life?

—from Sonnets, First Series (Sonnet VI) by Frederick Goddard Tuckerman

Northern white-cedar, eastern hemlock, soft white pine . . . I gather them in the quiet afternoon hours of the first Sunday in Advent. In early December the sun rests low in the sky, mostly hidden behind the leaves and needles of the conifers that half-ring our yard. Not one of these trees belongs to me—they sit just outside what I might call my own—but I do not think these stolid natives of the eastern lands much mind the quick snips of my shears, or my pilfering just a few sprigs from their still-lush beauty. The trees are who they have always been and I do what we have always done, as the wheel of the year turns and the darkness descends. The evergreens bear on, and we fragile creatures of the earth gather their boughs and wait for the Light.

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Guest Post :: The Homely Hours

Guest Post :: The Homely Hours

The Homely Hours is featuring a guest post I wrote for their Book of Common Prayer in Daily Life series. Click on the image below to read my thoughts (link is also at the bottom of this post).


My dad has always been great at off-the-cuff prayers. No matter what the occasion—Easter dinner or just a family meal—he can pull together a prayer on the spot that is both authentic and meaningful. I am not blessed with my dad’s talent for spontaneous prayer, but I can still offer up words of praise or petitions for intercession, thanks to the Book of Common Prayer. . .

Read more via The Homely Hours.