Freaks of Nature

I love how spring happens in tiny increments.  This week the snakes suddenly woke up and were everywhere; no one had seen a single one until Tuesday, when suddenly every trail group was coming back talking excitedly about garter snakes and water snakes and black rat snakes.  Hooray herps!  Yesterday morning I heard the first towhee song of the season (drink your teeeeeaaaaaaa!).  And of course, the wildflower bonanza is ongoing – the spring beauties and yellow violets are going nuts at the minute, and the jack-in-the-pulpits and wild ginger and white violets and phlox are getting started… I could go on, but I feel like I need to post something other than just lists and photos of the wildflowers blooming here, as much as I love them.

There’s a whole southern part to this property that I really have yet to explore at all, so this afternoon I decided to hike to the covered bridge and back, somewhere I hadn’t been yet.  There were a lot of sessile trilliums (Trillium sessile, a.k.a. toadshade, a wonderful name) along the trail, which don’t have the big white open flower you probably picture when you think of trillium, but they still have that whorl of three leaves.  Here’s a normal sessile trillium.

See?  Three leaves, three sepals, three curled-up reddish brown petals.  That’s where the “tri” in trillium comes from, after all.  But a little farther down the trail I found this bizarre creature:

Four of everything!  Is a four-leaf trillium more or less lucky than a four-leaf clover?

There were also lots of these long-stemmed leaves around.  Can you guess what they are?

They’re hepatica!  Normal hepatica leaves hug the ground pretty closely, but the plant can get infected by a rust that causes them not to flower and instead shoot up these tall, thin leaves.  Then flies land on them and “mix the gametes around,” to borrow some technical terminology (ha ha) from a botanist I know.  Don’t worry, though; as far as I know this rust is a native disease, as normal and natural as the flowers themselves, not something exotic that’s going to wipe out all the hepatica in North America.

Eventually, following my trail map, I arrived at a perfectly normal, modern bridge where a local road crossed the creek.  Not a picturesque old covered bridge.  Had I been tricked somehow?  Eventually I realized that I just had to cross that bridge and pick up the trail on the other side, and the actual covered bridge was just a bit farther down.  It was lovely (despite the graffiti), an old, barn-red structure flanked by enormous gnarled sycamore and osage orange trees.

Anyway, I completed my Red Cross certification in Wilderness and Remote First Aid yesterday and now hypothetically know what to do in the event of a sucking chest wound in the middle of nowhere, which makes me feel very competent and outdoorsy.  Hope everyone else’s weekend was as productive and gorgeous as mine!

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