Story and photos by Derek Doeffinger
Waking to rain day after day after day reminded me of the movie “Groundhog Day.” In particular those scenes of Andie McDowell endlessly slapping Bill Murray after his hapless ice sculpture seduction routine. Only now, the weather is doing the slapping. Looking out the window at 7 a.m. and seeing yet another day of rain and gloom was definitely a slap in the face.
So when last Saturday’s forecast promised sunshine to break the endless rain cycle, I was ready to head out to find something that said spring.
And I did. I came across a beautiful stream-side swale of lesser celandine – a small yellow flower. In bright sunshine, this large yellow patch stretched out for at least a hundred yards under still bleak leafless trees that let the sun stream through. The flowers shimmered gloriously, like a thousand tiny pinwheels.
I had come across celandine patches before but never one of this size. I threaded my way through them along a narrow deer path. There were a few piles of underbrush stacked along the way, so I think someone was trying to preserve and encourage the growth of these low-growing plants. It was working.
Only six to ten inches high, celandine flowers sport eight slender petals around a burst of stamens, all perched on a long slender stem with a base of shiny shield-shaped leaves.
Individually, they are pretty. In a mass they are inspiring.
As I carefully negotiated my steps out of the patch, a mourning cloak butterfly floated into the scene. About the size of a monarch, it revealed velvety scales that resembled a cloak but one of royal richness. The mourning cloak hibernates here over the winter – under bark, in tree crevices, perhaps under leaf-covered rocks. It lives up to a year, making it one of the longest living butterflies.
A warm day, even in the middle of winter, often rouses it to come out and flutter about. If there’s still snow on the ground its appearance seems almost miraculous. A winter butterfly. How is that possible?
But this was spring. Its appearance today was hardly miraculous. Maybe even overdue. But it was certainly welcome. Fluttering and then landing every few feet among the wildflowers, it reminded me not of mourning but of rejuvenation. Of better days to come.