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.
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.
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