The Turning

Mud season. Is it early this year, or is this just a precursor phase? Stellar's track.

Mud season. Is it early this year, or is this just a precursor phase? Stellar’s track.

Last week's sprouts that I thought were daffodils were miniature irises, which started to open day before yesterday.

Last week’s sprouts that I thought were daffodils are miniature irises, which started to open just yesterday. A bee!

Yes, winter will stick around overlapping with spring as it always does, but March has come like the lamb to us despite its leonine attacks on other parts of the country. Our walk through the woods this morning is chilly, but through the course of it the grey clouds part and blue sky returns with dappled sunshine. The lichens and mosses of Buck Canyon glow in their incandescent glory, lush from snowmelt, rain, and slightly warmer temperatures, from the littlest patches to the biggest.

A small patch of moss at the base of a little galleta grass.

A small patch of moss at the base of a little galleta grass.

A large swath of moss on the north side of several trees.

A large swath of moss on the north side of several trees.

"Massed moss protonemata" grow like green felt on an old juniper, intersperse with yellow lichens. This young thin layer of moss might grow up to be a clump if it develops stems and leaves.

“Massed moss protonemata” grow like green felt on an old juniper, intersperse with yellow lichens. This young thin layer of moss might grow up to be a clump if it develops stems and leaves.

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Last week, before the big melting, when walks even midday were crisp and cold, I walked routes through the woods I would never otherwise traverse, wandering on and off trails, crossing on top of crusted pillows of snow, over prickly pear cactus slumbering in vast patches underneath, over fragile cryptobiotic soils where a footprint at the wrong time of year could last a hundred more. Bright green mosses also pillowed the north sides of many trees, lime, chartreuse, in dappled sun, vigorous with snowmelt nourishing their minute single-celled leaves.

Not only prickly pears but claret cup cactus spend their winters under snow, this one just emerging from its pillow.

Not only prickly pears but claret cup cactus spend their winters under snow, this one just emerging from its pillow.

With more snow melted this week, more mosses and lichens revealed, the forest is a riot of color I wish I could wear. Walking last summer through the woods with a friend, he said when he sees those pillows of moss he just wants to go curl up on them and sleep. I can see that. But now, when they’re so vivid, I just want to make them my wardrobe.

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Dogs at the rim watching for signs of life below; Ice Canyon starts to melt.

Dogs at the rim watching for signs of life below; Ice Canyon starts to melt.

Enticed by lichens I crept to the canyon’s edge despite this vestigial imbalance, so improved that I walked today with a single walking stick instead of ski poles. Bending to catch a particular shot, the stick slipped from my hand and dropped through the crevice to the ground below the rim. Navigating my way down unstable stone steps to the scree slope, I groped along the layered cliff thirty or forty feet back to retrieve the stick, and looked up at the outcrop where the dogs often stand and I have stood only once or twice before.

It’s a different world down there, but I’ll delve into those mysteries when I have more time to spend there. Unsteady as I was I chose to pick up the stick and return to my proper level atop the rim. But I climbed back up slowly, smitten with all the gleaming lichens along the way, all revealed by the melting and thriving with this nourishing rain, all so muted when they’re dry.

Shot one of three while the walking stick slipped away.

Shot one of three while the walking stick slipped away.

Shot two of three...

Shot two of three…

Shot three, just as the stick slipped away.

Shot three, just as the stick slipped away.

From underneath the ledge, picking up the stick. Bearlike!

From underneath the ledge, picking up the stick. Bearlike!

Climbing back up the staggered stones.

Climbing back up the staggered stones.

Changing my imaginary lens gives a different cast to the lichens. This one represents the orange more accurately, while the previous imaginary lens represents the greens better.

Changing my imaginary lens gives a different cast to the lichens. This one represents the orange more accurately, while the previous imaginary lens represents the greens better.

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A broken twig from mountain mahogany, itself covered in lichens with one last autumn leaf.

A broken twig from mountain mahogany, itself covered in lichens with one last autumn leaf.

(Wednesday: It’s been a week of slow and busy healing. It’s been a busy week for the garden itself which is throwing up iris leaves and bulb sprouts and tiny green rosettes of all kinds of flowers and weeds. And for me, despite continued dizziness, my ability to function is improving and the temptation of warm sunny days, the beckoning cleanup from last fall left undone before the snowfall, and the hint of more snow to come tomorrow has kept me pushing my limits, of mobility, balance and focus.

The redwing blackbirds sing in the trees around the pond. Ornamental clump grasses, green from inside, it’s time to cut back all of last years stalks and seed heads and scatter them where I hope to see more grow. New green grass stems are already so tall in the dry stalks I’ll have to cut them too; it would be best to cut these grasses back before new shoots have started, maybe in January. But in January they were buried!

I burned a slash pile started last fall and tarped, though wet and smoky, has burned nearly down. I’ve scavenged the yard for more loose brush, stems, and still not satisfied I started to prune small, dead, thick and tangled twigs and branches from the last untamed juniper in the yard. It’s taken a long time for me to get motivated to burn this pile, but today is the perfect day; a mild intermittent breeze, snow or rain expected tomorrow, ground wet or frozen all around, peach tree and squawbush nearby not yet wakened into bud.

Smoke floating across the yard and through the woods, filtering between the trees below the tops of junipers might look alarming to the neighbors, but they know, most of them, this time of year, such smoke is most likely exactly what this is, and not a house afire.

Once I start burning I can’t stop. It’s like the next unknown curve in the trail, just one more! I’ll turn around after the next curve… no, after the next curve. Just one more handful of dried sagebrush, just one more cutback herb, just one or two more limbs of this juniper. Those burn down, I throw on another handful, another. Finally, I’ve had enough of staggering around the yard, bending, standing, dodging smoke. Finally, I let the pile burn down to a smolder and walk away, confident that the moisture in the landscape will quickly absorb any tiny spark that might blow away. Between snows in winter is definitely the time to burn.)

And finally, the biggest reward of all for the patience of winter, the first crocus in bloom!

And finally, the biggest reward of all for the patience of winter, the first crocus in bloom!

I came in this morning after our mossy, lichenous walk, renewed and content, breakfasted, meditated, and stepped outside again for a breath of fresh sunshiny air to check on the garden. At last! The bees have been out scouting on warm days for weeks, and so far no flowers for them to feed on. But this morning, their intrepid explorations have been rewarded at last! The tiny crocus patch, half overgrown with lambs’ ear, is buzzing, and so is the cluster of miniature purple iris, one, three, five bees at once exploring the corollas, flinging pollen everywhere, delirious in their satisfaction, and so am I. I broke out the big camera: my season has begun.

Delirious bee.

Delirious bee.

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