Nature Connection: Taking Time To Take Notice

By: Mary Richmond

Mary Richmond illustration


The sun was only recently out of bed, her rays stretching low across the landscape in sheets of golden light. The path I chose for my morning walk was through the woods, around a pond, and the light on the new baby leaves was breathtaking. There was a mist of lacy lime green wherever I looked. Yellows and greens and pinks, oh my.

An ovenbird called from the woods while a kingbird watched over the pond from an old, broken snag of a tree broken in a storm 20 or so years ago. A pair of mallards dabbled by the shore and a pair of towhees hopped about in the leaves, shuffling as they looked for their breakfast. All this and I could still see the parking lot.

The Canada mayflower leaves are covering the ground in all the dappled sunny spots. There are buds but no blooms yet. There are a few starflowers here, but I’ll have to go to another favorite spot to see them by the hundreds, if not thousands. Here, the sarsaparilla rules.

Easily confused with poison ivy at this time of year due to its three shiny leaves that often have the same rusty maroon red of the nascent poison ivy leaves, sarsaparilla grows straight up from the ground and separates into three stems that have whorls of leaves that can number from three to seven. Most of the ones we find have five leaves in each whorl, and eventually the leaves become soft and serrated, unlike the poison ivy leaves which are usually smooth or more coarsely toothed. The flowers are beneath the leaves and look like little round balls of fireworks. They are green now but will be white when in full bloom. Dark berries will form after the flowers stop blooming.

Aralia nudicaulis is called sarsaparilla because its roots were used to flavor root beer. Today many people make tea with the roots. It is a member of the ginseng family and may share some of the health benefits. It is not the Jamaican sarsaparilla which has many claims for improving health. If you are interested in learning more, please do your homework.

The oak trees overhead were blooming and a flock of hungry cedar waxwings was working its way through the treetops eating the flowers, their telltale whispers alerting me to their presence. A gorgeous male scarlet tanager sang from atop another oak, his red breast glowing in the morning light against the palest yellow of new leaves.

Blue jays chatted back and forth until one rose with a loud “JayJayJay!” and the others joined it. Was there a hawk? A crow? No offender seemed to materialize, and the jays returned to muttering and foraging in a stand of pitch pines by the water.

All along the pathway the upraised leaves of sweet pepperbush and viburnum competed to reach for the sun. Lowbush blueberries and huckleberries joined ferns to cover the ground with a soft, baby green. As an artist I’ll tell you that greens are hard to mix on the palette. As a nature lover I’ll tell you nature mixes it just right. Even my camera can’t quite match the shades and tints of green nature puts out each spring. There’s something about the early spring greens that melts me every year. Anyone who has walked with me in spring can attest I swoon over the colors and light as if I’d never been out of a darkened room and was seeing them for the first time. Throw in a glassy pond reflecting the perfect blue of a spring sky and, well, I may not be responsible for getting home on time.

More ovenbirds called, a pair of chickadees foraged for food and as I watched silently one of them showed me where their nest was. I promised without words I’d never let on and continued on my way. A great crested flycatcher had a lot to say and another answered from across the way. These large flycatchers are easy to identify, unlike many of their cousins, and they are quite loud and chatty. They aren’t very shy and can be amusing to watch as they are very opinionated about others of their kind getting in their face or space.

Pine warblers sang, red-bellied woodpeckers called, and a red-breasted nuthatch mumbled to itself while working its way up and down a tree near its nest. The resident osprey flew overhead, and tree swallows swooped low over the pond.

It was a perfect spring morning. I couldn’t really ask for more than that. Could you?