Winter Hollow

I’ve become entranced by a piece of Spanish moss I pass each day on my afternoon walk. It dangles out in the open from the end of a dead mountain laurel twig like a little world unto itself, resembling nothing so much as a disembodied gnome’s beard. J. R. Tolkien would love it.

The air down here in the hollow where all the springs and creeks run through is humid year round and many of the trees and shrubs are decorated with sea green lichens and mosses growing on their bark. Often people think they are a sign of disease or decline, but they are really signifiers of pure moist air and a non-polluted environment.

Broom sedge (Andropogon virginicus ) is the star of the east meadow, a soft gold fluttering tapestry spangled with polka-dot black seed heads atop tall stalks of old Verbesina (aka wingstem, yellow ironweed). I hope it will spread into sunnier areas opened up where we took the ash down. Deer’s tongue, with the perfectly intriguing botanical name of Panicum clandestinum, has ripened to a bamboo-like parchment tan and lines the mossy walkway down to the bench. All are native.

February is the month to mow the meadow. Then I’ll be walking into spring looking for the first of the lyre leaf sage (Salvia lyrata) and watching the daffodils come up. Narcissus planted last Thanksgiving are poking up their spiky spears along the bank below the driveway pines, many with flower buds deep within theĀ  leaves. I was afraid they wouldn’t bloom this first year after being divided.

Snowdrops have been in bloom for over a month. The ground is like iron now, but after the thaw we’ll transplant the ones left out in the meadow that lived beneath the doomed Ash. They look lost with nothing to ground them. The little bulbs show up best against the rock creek steps and individual boulders. Garden lore says Snowdrops (Galanthus sp.) are best moved when in flower and we’ve found this to be true.

Lonicera fragrantissima, the honeysuckle bush, is blooming, a fortuitously planted trio at the base of the electric pole that, like many an effective screen, does not obscure but leads the eye away. Their delightful lemon scent upon the chill air is the earliest sign of spring. These must be over 20 years old now, twiggy and semi-evergreen.

I think the mockingbirds nest there and it makes a convenient jumping off spot for the blue jays up into the giant beech which, nearing 40, has been bearing nuts for a few years now. Although non-native, the honeysuckle bush was often planted in old orchards because its early blooms attract the first pollinators.

From the mossy world of a lichen to the meadows and woods that surround it, up into the skies, Nature is as small and as large as our eyes can focus. Winter is the time for looking as close and as far as we can see.


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