1999

“Life is just a party, and parties aren’t meant to last.” ~ Prince, “1999”

Hepatica in the woods

It’s that time of year again, time to hurry up and see the spring ephemeral wildflowers before they’re gone. Every year at this time I’m reminded about how we place so much importance on things that aren’t here for very long. Think about rainbows. Warblers during spring migration. The cherry blossoms in Washington and Tokyo. Hepatica rising from the leaf litter in the woods.

We have festivals to celebrate these things — well, except for the rainbows (as far as I know). We eagerly anticipate them and cherish memories about them when they’re no longer present. If warblers were here all year long like blue jays, would we appreciate them as much? If you could look out your window and see a rainbow every day, how long would it take for you to start taking it for granted?

My opening quote from Prince’s song “1999” popped into my head recently as I was admiring a vast swath of spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) on one of my walks. I’ve read that those flowers only bloom for three days.

This party on the forest floor definitely doesn’t last long!

One of the earliest hoverflies to show up each year is this narrow-headed marsh fly (Helophilus fasciatus), and they’re plentiful wherever I find spring beauties. Notice the five pink anthers on the flowers, as well as the pink lines that serve as nectar guides that…well, guide pollinators to the nectar, of course.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is another spring flower that has a very brief bloom time, but it leaves behind its hand-sized, deeply-lobed leaves as a welcome consolation prize for us. In the photo below, you can see the single flower stem standing in front of the leaf. At night or on a cold day, that big leaf wraps itself around the flower like a protective emerald blanket. Even when I’m out on a cold day, I can enjoy seeing these because I know there’s a beautiful flower inside those tightly curled leaves.

Bloodroot leaf waving at me

And here’s a bloodroot flower blooming, with the leaf gently curving around it.

The back of the bloodroot leaf is yet another interesting part of this plant.

Speaking of leaves, take a look at the speckled ones of Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum). I’m not even sure I’ve ever seen the flowers of this plant, but I get lots of enjoyment from the leaves all by themselves.

If you’re like me when you think of the word ephemeral, you think of things like those I’ve just written about. But what about our lives? Aren’t we also ephemeral relative to the grand scheme of things? You and I are just here for the blink of an eye, at least in terms of the age of our universe. We do often hear people say that “life is short,” but I don’t think that phrase really captures what I’m thinking of. Considering our lives as ephemeral in this way is reassuring to me, as someone who tends to take everything too seriously and think too much about things that really don’t matter in the end.

Greater bee fly feeding on a bloodroot flower — check out that proboscis!!

This line of thinking leads me to considering nonconformity, and what it means in a social species like homo sapiens. A couple years ago I wrote an article about nonconformity and how it feels when you don’t fit the mold of what your society expects you to be. I included a quote from an author who said humans are basically just monkeys in clothes, and who cares if the other monkeys judge you? That quote has been in my mind lately as I look out over the beautiful yellow flowers dotting my front lawn, knowing that most of my “perfect lawn” neighbors probably think I should be using chemicals to kill them. I know dandelions are aggressive non-native flowers here, but I really think they’re beautiful on the green grass, and they help the early pollinating insects when there’s not much else for them to feed on yet.

This is NOT my yard…but so what if it was?

So yeah, I’m a monkey and I’m only going to be here for the blink of an eye. So why not just do what I think is right, and enjoy the party? Let the other monkeys judge me if they must.

As we celebrate Earth Day this week, I hope you find time to go out and appreciate the ephemeral beauty of spring wildflowers or migrating warblers in their breeding plumages.

Cape May warbler at Magee Marsh near Toledo, Ohio

15 comments

  1. I love your blog, Kim. Your photos are outstanding, your words meaningful and you always leave me with something to think about!

  2. Hi Kim!
    It does me so good to see someone else appreciating the leaves as you do! There is so much beauty in foilage and what would the world be without it! So, enough exclamation points…;). I enjoyed your article, can you tell?

  3. Kim-

    Glad to see that things are “springing” to life where you are. The dragon flies are beginning to swarm here amongst the gnats making sunglasses a must on afternoon bike rides. I can’t help but thing of you when one smashes into me!

    daryl

  4. The wooded areas are alive with those ephemerals now. There seems to be some new daily.
    Unfortunately it is snowing as I type. There will be other plants and flowers seeming ephemeral after this freeze.

    • Hi Lisa — yes, we’ve got snow coming down here too, two inches so far tonight. I had to go out just after dark and gently shake heavy snow off of my chokecherry sapling that was being severely weighed down. I only planted it last year and it’s still so spindly and fragile…I hope it’s okay. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!

    • Thanks, Cindy!

      Everyone, check out Cindy’s tribute to pasque flower on her blog today — TuesdaysintheTallgrass.wordpress.com. I always look forward to her Tuesday virtual walks on the prairies around the Chicago area!

  5. Lovely photos, as always, Kim. Ephemeral beauty is truly a joy. We are experiencing our version of it after rains a month or so ago. Things are green and wildflowers are popping, but there is nothing like Spring in Ohio!

    • Yes, spring in Ohio is rather interesting. A couple weeks ago I was wearing shorts and sweating as I worked in the garden. Tonight we have 2″ of fresh snow and it’s still coming down. April is never boring, that’s for sure!

  6. Lovely pictures of the short-lasting spring blooms (and warbler!). I agree about dandelions 🙂 I’ve always thought they were very pretty and I leave them be.

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