Soon after I returned from my mid-January trip to the Nevada desert I began noticing small glimmers of Spring. First, it was the tentative strains of Song sparrows warming up their territorial melodies in the woods behind my home. At the botanical garden witch hazel scented the air with an intoxicating fragrance, and the same week, sturdy daffodil shoots pierced the dull brown earth, powering up like legions of little green soldiers.
Under last year’s leaf detritus the warmed earth has been incubating new growth; even as I type, reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea) motors briskly through the decaying leaf matter and into the sunlight. Speaking of sunlight, there may not be a lot of it around here, but daylight is no longer scarce after 4:00 pm. What a pleasure!
This is the time of year that our native Indian plum leafs out and thrusts cascades of tiny white flowers into the woods, providing nectar for early bees, moths, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Willows curtain the marsh with beads of lime green on softly waving stems. Way out on Lake Washington one day, just after sunset, I watch four river otters cavorting. Rafts of coots, wigeons and grebes gather near the shore and a pair of Mallards hauls up on a log to rest.
All the crisp brown leaves that were caught on branches and ferns are disintegrating into fine lace. I admire the map-like tracery of veins across the skeletonized leaves. Pleasing little rows of bumps on Sword fern leaflets are evidence of plentiful spore dots (sori), located on the underside of the leaf. It’s rewarding to peer closely but sometimes I let my eyes and camera go out of focus, to better feel the wild energy of the cold air moving through the forest.
Bloodtwig dogwood stems (Cornus sanguinea) are showy with color now, and display a handsome, architectural simplicity of form. A few small blossoms on a shrub I can’t identify nod shyly along the wood’s edge.
At an arboretum in Seattle the earliest varieties of azaleas and cherry trees are blooming, and at their feet, snowdrops and crocuses punctuate thickly mulched beds. A few precocious daffodils are already out. Birdsong rings through the woodlands. We watch an Anna’s hummingbird flit impatiently from blossom to blossom in the azalea, his iridescent green back glinting brilliantly in the sunlight against clear pink flowers.
For over a month I have noticed trees laden with long, elegant catkins. I couldn’t figure out what they were and it was driving me crazy. At the arboretum I came across one of these trees while on foot and took a close look at it. The catkins, which hold male flowers, each with four stamens, were fully out. Between clumps of them I found the tiniest red starburst flowers perched on vase-shaped buds: the female flowers. Last year’s leaves were still under the tree, so I photographed them, too. The clues made identification easier: the mystery tree is our native Beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta). This tree’s nuts are smaller than the European hazelnut so the species is not grown commercially, but it makes a nice specimen tree just the same, with its abundance of golden catkins.
Hellebores have been blooming for a month now at the botanical garden, while fat buds on trees reach out into the delicately hued forest, and the Crepe myrtle tree’s patchwork bark seems to glow a little brighter than before.
It’s happening. And it’s more than a glimmer.
Some of these photos were made using a vintage super Takumar 50mm f1.4 prime lens, with an adapter to fit my camera. This film era lens is somewhat heavy (it has an all-metal construction) and it can be difficult to focus. It doesn’t produce the same kind of all-over tack sharpness that modern lenses have, but there’s a particular beauty to the way it renders colors and tones. I’ve mentioned it in previous posts. Here’s a quick video about the lens.
Number 2, #3 (except the daffodil shoots), #6, #9, #10, #11, #12, #20 and #21 were made with the old Takumar 50mm. All the others were made with an Olympus 60mm f2.8 macro lens.
For gardeners, the Witch hazels are Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ and Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold’s Promise’.
One more thing – since beginning this post another mass shooting has occurred in the U.S. I stand in sympathy for the victims and their families, and this includes all the kids who are traumatized by this event. I heard an interview with a 23-year-old newspaper reporter who has already covered three mass shootings. How does she deal with that? The National Association of Social Workers put out this statement, which notes that our country leads the world in mass shootings and recommends treating gun violence as a public health crisis. Mass shootings are complex problems, not reducible to one cause or one solution, but people in power need to begin the hard work of fixing this problem.