Seeing spring sprouts summertime memories

John Pepin

“Let me ride, ride, ride, I got to be free inside.” — K. Cronin

The air was filled with the songs of the ovenbirds, hermit thrushes and robins, while the ground below was covered in an exquisite carpet of large-flowered trilliums.

These regal white beauties, with their striking green leaves, stood about a foot high, just off the soft shoulder of the highway, under the protective arms of mighty maples whose own leaves were beginning to sprout.

At the center of the trillium flowers were golden stamens that reached out like the arms of starfish toward the light. Across the surface of the petals and the leaves were creases and ripples.

The credit for creating this beautiful blanket for the forest floor goes to nature herself, with the help of ants, which take fruit from the plants back to their colonies and subterranean tunnels where it is eaten, and the seeds are left to germinate.

With these flowers it may take several years before the first flowers bloom. Sometimes, it’s that way with people too.

I remember the first time I saw trilliums was when I was a kid on a trip toward Escanaba with my family. I don’t recall exactly where we were going or why, but I remember those flowers, stretching as far back into the trees as I could see.

The basic color scheme of the scene was remarkable to me — deep green and bright white, with sparkles of gold sprinkled throughout.

There was something about the simplicity and the simultaneous intricacy of the vision of countless flowers standing together, with only scant inches between their stalks, that made me pause and look without speaking.

This day was no exception. The instant I saw the flowers, I pulled my car over to the side of the road and got out with my camera. My heart ran over seeing this welcomed sight of spring. I knelt among the blooms, with the dead leaves of autumn, curled and brown, crunching beneath my blue-jeaned knees.

After a few moments of enjoying the scene, I heard the voice of a man who called to me from the end of his driveway, where his truck sat running across the road.

“Everything alright,” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m taking pictures of the trilliums,” I said. “I work for the DNR.”

“Yeah, I see that,” he said, kind of laughing and nodding toward my own running vehicle with the department emblem painted on the doors.

A couple minutes later he waved as he drove past, heading east, just like me.

I waved back and smiled.

A short distance down the road, I pulled over again to enjoy another magnificent floral scene. It was as captivating and enchanting as a painting.

There were trilliums here too, but at this place, the stately white flowers were grossly outnumbered by thousands upon thousands of forget-me-nots, which had splashed beautiful varied shades of blue across the green ground cover.

There were some white blooms here too among this tribe, with the centers of the blossoms showing off golden yellow rings sitting atop white stars.

I’m always happy to see these pretty flowers. From my youngest days, forget-me-nots still stir me anytime I see their showy displays — wherever they turn up.

When I was a little kid, these were the pretty things I’d pick and bring to my mom to put in water for a tiny vase on the dinner table or the kitchen windowsill. One suggestion I read online said to give these flowers as signs of true love or friendship.

I also read how easy it is to grow these plants by sprinkling their seeds into flower beds or other desired locations to produce a pool of blue beauty, about 4 inches deep, the following spring.

I plan to put aside a little bit of time this summer to plan some places to plant. Along with the beautiful little grape hyacinth, these flowers are among my favorites.

The hyacinth, with its clumped little blue upside-down urn-shaped flowers, adorned in white bordering the flower opening, are sometimes called “bluebells.”

I remember them growing just off the concrete sidewalk, in my mom’s gardens outside our front porch. They were low in stature compared to the towering red tulips and poppies.

My mom grew the hyacinth in the backyard gardens too, part of which were for flowers and part for vegetables like snap peas, green beans, carrots and tomatoes. There still are very few things in this world that taste as good as that produce freshly picked.

Back on the road, I soon rolled into a little community nestled between two big lakes, connected by a picturesque stream that flowed underneath the trees. Restored old buildings stood along the riverbanks.

I got out of the car to look over the bridge to see what kind of water we had flowing here. A big swirl of minnows spun in a circle just offshore, outside the suction of the current.

In the trees above, I heard a bird singing I hadn’t heard in quite some time — years, in fact. I looked up to see flashes of bright orange and black among the branches of a tall tree with lime-green leaves. It was a Baltimore oriole.

This little town was a portrait of small-town, summertime America. A man puttered a riding lawn mower down the main street. A couple in a side-by-side crossed over the bridge. I waved to them as I snapped a picture.

Along the shore of the nearest lake, a muskrat swam up close to where I was standing. He didn’t see me until the last moment when he splashed off, scooting underwater to greater depth.

Offshore, two kayakers enjoyed the sunny afternoon.

Little bait and tackle shops, eateries and a grocery stood on either side of the winding county road, along with lots of boats everywhere. American flags hung off telephone poles over the street.

I had stopped to take a couple pictures. When I got back into the car, I was pulling the door shut when I noticed a small house standing directly across the street from me.

There was a robin in the yard and a concrete path leading up to the two-story structure. The house was for sale. There was a screen door on the front porch at the top of three concrete steps.

I could see inside the door to a small ice-cream parlor table and chairs. I imagined a glider there too, just out of sight.

A big maple tree stood in the front yard, while a sprawling cedar was growing in front of the screened porch windows, likely for a little privacy. My sense is the tree outgrew its welcome. It’s now blocking most of the view.

To me this house looked like it was owned by folks who took good care of it. It was simple and quaint, but grand. I was immediately drawn inside by a warm, homey feeling.

This place reminded me greatly of the days when we’d have Sunday dinners on the spacious screened porch at my grandma’s house. That two-story house was bigger, white with red window trimming and a concrete sidewalk leading out to the county road.

As I sat in the car and looked at the house, my mind drifted back to the casserole we ate on Grandma’s porch, topped with crushed potato chips. The breezes were warm back then too.

After supper, everyone would be in the living room visiting. My dad in the recliner reading the newspaper and my mom and grandma making their way out to the kitchen to do the dishes.

I hope I can always hold tight to those memories of summertime — simple and carefree days when pretty, orange hawkweed grew in the yard, when I was too small to reach the latch on the front gate and this crazy life I know now was a million miles away.

Editor’s note: John Pepin is the deputy public information officer for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula. Send correspondence to pepinj@michigan.gov or 1990 U.S. 41 South, Marquette, MI 49855.