Half asleep, I hook the leashes on the dogs and stumble out the door in the early morning sunlight. Taking our normal route, I trod out to the woods west of the house, hoping the dogs will do their business quickly so I can come back in for my cup of coffee. As we circle back, something faint purple catches my eye. I stoop down low to the ground, and yes, there it is. Ever so small and dainty, the first sign of spring has popped up from the dusty ground behind our garage.
Though the calendar says spring started almost a month ago, for mountain residents, spring arrives later, sometimes much later. Some of the heaviest snows of the season often fall in April, making it seem more like winter than spring. Nevertheless, signs of spring show up during the warmer days, reminding me that winter is coming to an end.
One of the signs of spring is the Western Pasque Flower. It’s the first flower that comes up in the Colorado Rocky Mountains after the long, cold dark months of winter come to an end. The first bit of color on an otherwise bleak landscape of cold brown ground amidst aspens that won’t begin to leaf out for another month or so.
Its delicate nature belies it hardiness and bravery. It grows in the harshest of climates where the mountain winds blow in excess of 70 mph, on rocky slopes. It is small with velvety leaves clinging to the ground, barely a few inches off the ground. Those in a hurry might not even notice the first ones popping up. But it is the pale blue color of its petals that stands out, daring winter to go away.
I’m here, I’m here — it whispers to the alpine woods. Leading the pack, encouraging others to follow in its path, proclaiming that warmer temperatures are on the way. Its lovely bloom won’t last long, usually just a couple of weeks before it starts to fade and go to seed.
The funny thing is that most springs, when I first start seeing the lovely Pasque flower, within a week, they are buried by a late-breaking spring snow storm. It’s almost by sprouting up, it dares Mother Nature to defy its boldness, and Mother Nature roars back with one last snow storm. As I read the weather forecast for this coming week, I chuckle. Sure enough, they are calling for snow the end of the week, and the flowers will get buried once again.
The seeding of the flower is almost as noteworthy as the bloom itself, turning itself into a mop head of sorts that waves in the stiff mountain breezes. Being a lover of Dr. Seuss, whenever I see the “mop head” I am reminded of The Lorax, a book that spoke in a child’s voice to the importance of conservation through the plight of the Truffula Tree. The Lorax reminds us of the importance of “speaking for the trees” to save them from being demolished.
The seeding Pasque flowers always reminded me of mini Truffula Trees, waving and bandying about. I’ve spent a good amount of life “speaking for the trees” through my work with the national and county parks. Today I not only speak for the trees, but for the flowers as well.
As you spend some time outside in the next couple of days, enjoying the warmer temperatures, look closely around your feet. Splatters of violet remind you the spring has indeed arrived.