s a student in high school and college, I had to read a fair amount of poetry. But the only lines I remember by heart are the opening stanzas of the prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, a kind of paean to spring:
Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour
In the grip of the worst rain year in recorded California history, I’m reveling in the imagery of the showers “perc[ing] to the roote” and “bath[ing] every veyne” in the life-giving “licour” of H20. I’m also envying Chaucer’s certainty of the proper order of things (March drought followed by April showers…which we later learned will bring May flowers — of course, he’s referring to spring in England; ours comes a few months earlier). A few lines later Chaucer continues:
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye,
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages:
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages…
I share this longing “to goon on pilgrimages” in the spring, though my pilgrimages are not to a cathedral; my religion is rooted in in the hills and streams, and my springtime pilgrimages are to the coastal prairie, the grasslands, and the woodlands to seek epiphany in the wildflowers that have been “engendred” by the “shoures”…when there are showers.
In “normal” years, there’s the thrill of anticipation as spring approaches: what will bloom where and when and in what profusion? Hard to know in advance if it will be a “good” wildflower year. If it rains too much too early, maybe the grasses will shade out the wildflowers. If it rains too much too late, perhaps the flowers will be nipped in the bud. But there’s always the thrill of the springtime hunt, whether it’s encountering best friends in familiar places (a favorite patch of bird’s-eye gilia on the back side of Mount Diablo, a mass of tidy tips on the bluff at Chimney Rock) or finding new flowers where I’ve never seen them before.
But this year, with its historic drought, I wondered if there would be any wildflowers at all to speak of. (Perhaps a more appropriate line of poetry would be Pete Seeger’s “Where have all the flowers gone?”) But then early February rains gave me hope that there would be some flowers or at least greener hills (enough with that parched gray-brown look already!).
And then yesterday — it’s late February as I write this — I went for a walk at Rush Creek Open Space in Novato and was surprised and delighted to see an old friend — look at them all! — lining the trail through the oak woodland: milkmaids, harbingers of spring. So it appears that my nondenominational prayers were answered and we will have spring this year after all.
By the time you read this in April, the die will have been cast and the show — of unknown quality and duration — should be on. So head on out for a springtime pilgrimage, and while you’re at it, why not share your best wildflower sightings with us and our readers? Submit them (name of flower, if you know it; where and when it was seen; and a photo) to firstname.lastname@example.org; we’ll post verified sightings to our website at baynature.org/flowers. Happy hunting!