Were most of your stars out?

Woodland diary, day 12

Monday morning, there was a brown creeper in the neighborhood and wood violets blooming in the yards. Tuesday morning, the last day of March, on the walk from our neighborhood to Maple Grove, there were wood sorrel and dandelions and all the lawns greening up, creeping Charlie, small sedums, hellebore in flower. The wild rye along the road into the woods were ankle high. The plants seem still to be sopping up the rains of the previous days.

Within the woods, the trails are drying out. Hairy sedge clumps are putting up blue-green tillers that cant a bit on their way up and stand roughly three inches tall. White bear sedge shoots are overtopping their evergreen rosettes from the previous year. Agrimony is reclining on the oak – maple leaf litter, orchard grass is ankle-high, garlic mustard leaves are the size of half dollars.

Toothwort is in a funny position right now. Depending on where you look, you can find it still arching its neck as it finishes pulling its head out of the soil; straightening up, but leaves still inrolled like wet crepe paper; or fully open, flowers about to burst. You get a broad developmental series if you take a walk in the right places. Beside it, you may find a prairie trillium unfolding from an exposed rhizome tip, some unidentified shoot heaving out of the soil like a troll’s index finger, mottled leaves of white trout lily unrolling from the small round tuber, leeks and Virginia bluebells about the same height. What you won’t find yet, so far as I can tell, is wild ginger. I’ve been looking for it on every walk and still don’t see it squeezing out of the pores in the forest floor. If you do, let us know.

Brooklyn and I roamed through the woods a bit more casually than usual. I’d just submitted a grant the night before and had the day off, and for a moment we relished the sense of freedom. I caught the “bizz” of what I swore must be a blue-gray gnatcatcher, but isn’t it too early? I didn’t hear it again, but I think I know the call pretty well. I see on eBird that this perhaps a week too early. I’ll keep my ears peeled in the coming days to see if there are others. [Jay Sturner, if you’re reading this, please tell us what you’re hearing.]

A fellow with a dog greeted us. “Ticks are out. It’s been these warm weekends.” He nodded at Brooklyn. “Treat her early.” We chatted for a bit, then Brooklyn and I headed down past the culvert to a colony of Wood’s sedge that I like to visit once in awhile. The colony is about as big as a king-size bed. A winter wren was calling from uphill, right where I’d heard it the previous time I was here. The young Wood’s sedge shoots are, like many of the sedges, about pinky length right now, with deep burgundy sheaths that you can’t easily mistake for anything else.

Uphill, a flock of James’s sedges form tussocks scattered like a bagful of wigs tossed onto the slope, all with pencil-thin tillers emerging from the evergreen leaves. Scattered among them are hairy sedge and false rue anemone, the dark leaves of which are now visible throughout the woods, many with floral buds. Spring beauty floral buds are condensing in the axils of the paired leaves. Great waterleaf cotyledons are everywhere now, and the false mermaid is developed enough to color the slopes green.

On the walk home, there were black inflorescences on the Pennsylvania sedges beneath a street tree. This morning, they were in the same condition under our friend’s garden. Soon they will be flying their anthers in the gardens and on the streets, and soon after that in the woods.


Today it was announced that the Arboretum will be closed for the next month to help limit the spread of coronavirus. With the onslaught of beautiful weather–everyone will want to get in there soon to see the Pennsylvania sedges blooming: it happens every year–it’s certainly the right thing to do.

I remembered a line from Salinger this morning that brings me almost as much joy as the woods in spring. It’s a dialog between the brothers Glass, Buddy and Seymour, both writers. Seymour is the older, and he always gives his brother Buddy comments on his writing by listening, then writing a letter later on. Buddy recounts one of the letters here:

You got so mad at me [last week when we were registering for the draft]. Do you know what I was smiling at? You wrote down that you were a writer by profession. It sounded to me like the loveliest euphemism I had ever heard. When was writing ever your profession? It’s never been anything but your religion. Never. Since it is your religion, do you know what you will be asked when you die?… I’m so sure you’ll get asked only two questions. Were most of your stars out? Were you busy writing your heart out? If only you knew how easy it would be for you to say yes to both questions.1

It’s very hard to make sense of all that’s going on. The woods help a great deal, and writing as well. I wish you all moments of happiness and clarity.

Plants referenced

  • Agrimonia sp. – most likely A. pubescens or A. gryposepala, but I’ll need to key it out later this year
  • Alliaria petiolata – garlic mustard
  • Caramine concatenata – toothwort
  • Carex albursina – white bear sedge
  • Carex hirtifolia – hairy sedge
  • Carex jamesii – James’s sedge
  • Carex pensylvanica – Pennsylvania sedge
  • Carex woodii – Wood’s sedge
  • Claytonia virginica – spring beauty
  • Dactylis glomerata – orchard grass
  • Elymus virginicus… I think. The wild rye I was looking at along the road appeared to me to be this species, but I haven’t keyed it out yet
  • Enemion biternatum – false rue anemone
  • Erythronium albidum – white trout lily
  • Floerkea proserpinacoides – false mermaid
  • Hydrophyllum appendiculatum – great waterleaf
  • Oxalis stricta or O. dillenii – wood sorrel
  • Glechoma hederacea – creeping Charlie
  • Taraxacum officinale – dandelion
  • Trillium recurvatum – prairie trillium
  • Viola sororia – wood violet

  1. Salinger, JD. 1963. Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction. Little, Brown and Co.