Spring arrives slowly in Alaska. Piles of dirty snow sit on the north side of the house and in the shadowed patches on the south. Near our front porch the white mounds defy the sun, and hopes for an early spring are usually disappointed. This is when my thoughts turn to Whirlwind Hill and wildflowers.

"Front Door with Snow," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and colored pencil, 2013

“Front Door with Snow,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and colored pencil, 2013

My mother, who grew up roaming the fields and hills around the farm, knew her wildflowers and birds. The repeated rhythms of her stories about gathering spring flowers on the mountain come back to me in a list of names – hepatica, spring beauty, adder’s tongues, Dutchman’s breeches, trillium, violets. When she was growing up, she and her brothers and sister picked these wildflowers for May Day baskets.

The old-fashioned ritual of hanging baskets of flowers on doors on May first, “May Day,” knocking, and then running away to hide, appeals to me, but it’s not something that’s going to happen in Alaska. Instead, I hang a blue metal basket of hopeful pussy willows near the front door to remind me that spring will arrive eventually.

While my mother was still alive I continued a tradition started by her older brother Francis. Every spring when the adder’s tongues (also called trout lilies or dogs-tooth violets) bloomed in their usual spot by the spring at the cow pond, Francis picked a bunch and brought them up the lane to the farmhouse for his mother, my Grandma Hall. When my mother could no longer walk to the pond I picked them for her. They’re such lovely and cheerful little flowers, but they do have a slight reptilian quality because of their spotted waxy leaves, tongue-like stamens, and curled back petals. They grow in colonies that, if undisturbed, can last for decades. I find them in the same spots, year after year. They come back, much like I do to Whirlwind Hill, because their roots are there.

"Adder's Tongues," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and colored pencil, 2013

“Adder’s Tongues,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and colored pencil, 2013

From Lydia’s journal, May 5, 1924 – “Nice day. Agnes took Francis to school this morning – he took a large bunch of Adder Tongues he picked down in the meadow to Miss Martin. They are very nice, in full bloom. I think they will make her smile.”

On Monday:  The Kitchen

11 thoughts on “Wildflowers

  1. Michael Foster

    What a nice tradition tying the generations together. Spring is special everywhere, but I have very fond memories of the greening of Whirlwind Hill. The snow would finally retreat to reveal the brown and beaten grass of last year. Little by little the green blush would spread across the fields. The wild flowers would then come to let you know that it really was a new beginning. Thank you for the reminder.

  2. Allen

    Nice! Looked up Adder’s Tongues. Bulbs are available. I didn’t find that pretty yellow yet. “Erythronium dens-canis Dogtooth Violet. This charming Eurasian species has flowers that are Cyclamen look-alikes in both shape and color. The 1in purplish pink blooms appear above foliage that is marvelously marbled and mottled with purple and brown.” White Flower Farm

    1. Carol Post author

      I have a sharp-lobed hepatica in my garden in Alaska. It’s such a pretty bluish-purple color. The leaves open after the flowers are nearly finished.

  3. Judy Rosen

    Your watercolors are beautiful! Love the colors on your porch. So inviting. I want to sit in that chair and enjoy the warmth! Never heard those flowers referred to as adder’s tongues, though. Lydia’s journal entries are wonderful, too. Glad you’re including them.

    1. Carol Post author

      (I wrote a comment to you but seem to have pushed the wrong button – anyway, the comment below about the porch was meant as a reply to your nice comment.)

  4. Carol Post author

    It is nice on that porch when the sun is shining. And it has been a rather warm spring this year. I think you were the one who encouraged me in the Workroom to use more of the journal entries. My great-grandmother always seems to have something appropriate to say.


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