Sometimes the arrival of Late Winter, carries a great thaw. One day I went out to the river in the warmth of such a thaw, when cumulus clouds tumbled across the sky in gusts of the southwest wind, and the water of the river was shining with low, brisk waves of silvers, then blues, then grays.
The oaks of the far bank were black against the bright sky. On hillsides of Osage trees, patches of their yellow wood glowed like the flush of expanding spring buds. Below the Osage hardy green chickweed,wild onion, garlic mustard, henbit and hemlock lay akimbo across the melting snow.
The river had flooded earlier in the week. Mounds and drifts of silt and sand followed the course of the flood along the paths. In the bottomland the high water had uncovered foliage of buttercups and ragwort and sweet rockets.
In the swamp, fat skunk cabbage curled above the mud, many plants open and blooming. Great white stalks of last May's angelica crunched under my feet as I picked my way across the wetland. The rivulets that passed through the grassy bogs were full and fast. I even saw small fingerlings swimming in one stream, far from any pool for safe haven. I surprised a water strider in an eddy of a brook, water cress and duckweed there.
Climbing to the top of the ridge, I saw the river and its tributaries become paths of radiance. But then I entered a sudden patch of fog, the brilliant curves of light disappeared. The enclosure of enveloping mist showed both the confinement and the freedom of the valley. I lost my landmarks, but also my limits. There was no other side to the river. Like the end of the year before me, the opposite bank seemed infinitely distant.
This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the second week of Late Winter. In the meantime, walk in the thaws and all the promise of the season.