Morning for the spring dandelion is gentle and calm
The world is no longer a struggle but instead a serendipitous balm
Your yellow buds open upon you, sneaking between others some pink, some white
More colors even still in the waxing new day’s light
There is no better time for the dandelion than when spring has sprung
The leaves are fresh green and so is the fresh dung
Birds do sing high up in the stretching yawning trees
Staking their turf, edges, and new nesting eaves
Spring when sprung well sizzles with waking signs
Of kin abloom drawn with straight growing lines
One end towards sun, the other down towards the deep
Until some roots build taps, and others go on the creep
The days are now joyous choruses of neighbor raucous crocuses
Avian acrobats whirling spinning diving like ferocious locusts
Shades of toothed green batten down the laden earth
Soaking and drinking and filling to fullest milky girth
And as the sun sets on each new spring day
I am reminded of the new presence by the heat that stays
Radiating, glowing, even after the moon has shown
Continuing the journey of growth and what has grown
It is amazing to think that each year the world mends
Its browns in all hues to life in all bends
From sails to seeds to germ and blossom
Dandelion life is both humble and awesome
So this spring when sprung look out your window or door
Remember that life gives always life more and more
If in doubt, don’t wait: be like the dandelion flower
Thriving in cracks and interrupting silly lawns with unrelenting blissful dandelion power
On the first Saturday in May, Maypoles with 20 foot long ribbons appear in the Mendon town square. By ten o’clock a couple hundred residents have gathered around the poles. A piano in the gazebo strikes the first chords and the May Queen and her entourage step around the corner of the church and onto the green. Suddenly everybody gathered in the square begins to sing. “Come to the woodlands, away, away”. Most people know the whole song by heart.
The queen is crowned and the real showstopper, the braiding of the Maypoles, begins. Mendon’s young girls, grades 1-5, pick up the ribbons. Braiding the poles is complicated. The girls have been practicing after school three times a week since the beginning of April. Last week I dropped in on one of the practices and counted: 3 Maypoles, 64 girls, and a little bit of chaos. There’s a march, a minuet. More songs. Stepping in, stepping out, kneeling, skipping. The girls bob up and down as they sing ”Apples blossoms swing and sway..”
Mendon is one of Cache Valley’s oldest pioneer towns, tucked up against the Wellsville Mountains. Winters were long and hard, and the coming of spring eagerly awaited. The beginnings of May Day can be traced back to the days when the young girls in the pioneer settlement raced up the hillsides to gather spring wildflowers to put in their hair.
The first May Queen, Seny Sorenson, was crowned with a hand woven wreath of flowers in 1863. Since then, every year, rain or shine, a queen has been crowned in the town square, and the maypoles have been braided with the same songs and dance steps. 160 years, with only a few changes.
The queen’s name is now drawn out of a hat from a pool of the town’s high school juniors. And this year, for the first time ever, the young girls will be getting store bought dresses. In the past, the mothers were expected to sew the matching dresses for their daughters. Not knowing about this tradition, you can imagine how bewildered I was when I had just moved to Mendon and answered a knock on my door. A woman I didn’t know handed me a dress pattern and proceed to say something about altering the interfacing. I was pretty sure she was speaking English, but I couldn’t understand a word she was saying. Luckily my good friend and neighbor quickly brought me up to speed. This wonderful neighbor had actually been Mendon’s May Queen over 50 years ago. “Do you want to see my crown?” she asked as she opened the door to her hall closet. And there it was, a tight ring of pink and white flowers, secured to a tiny satin pillow with a fading ribbon.
I had one more stop to make. I hopped in my car and drove up to the Deep Canyon trailhead high above Mendon. A short way up the trail I found it– a whole hillside covered with curly yellow Glacier Lilies, the “early blooming flowers” from the May Day song “Maying and Straying…” And believe me, this was a sight worth singing about.
This is Mary Heers, and I’m Wild about Springtime in Utah.
Wolf Lichen, Letharia vulpina Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, PhotographerIn one of my first childhood books I met a washerwoman hedgehog named Mrs. Tiggy-winkle who lived on a hilltop higher than the clouds that had a spring, peculiar rocks, and mysterious footmarks. Its author had studied and recorded both in words and watercolor detail in her sketchbooks everything from bird eggs and bees to caterpillars and cornflowers to water lilies and Flopsy Mopsy rabbits with naturalist precision.
What if children’s book author Beatrix Potter would have known Utah the way she captured interesting elements of places she visited while on her family holiday outings in the English Lake District, North Wales, and Scotland? I wonder how her mind might have played with our minty Green River, sometimes in Utah’s history known by the names Rio Verde and Seedskeedee. What would she have done with its Gates of Lodore or Desolation Canyon?
Green. Everywhere I look outside I see green. Perhaps that is why green is my favorite color. Nothing stops me in my tracks like chartreuse wolf lichen clinging to the bark of conifer trunks. What stories would Potter spin with that had she wandered through Utah’s forests? It is said that her favorite organism was actually fungi like the Amanita gemmata or jeweled deathcap, so much so that her naked-eye and microscope-enhanced renderings led her to compose an essay about spore germination for the Linnean Society in 1897.
The world knows her best for her Peter Rabbit tale, yet because she was such an observant nature artist, spinning fantastical stories about creatures in the wild and pairing them with companion pencil and watercolor illustrations begs little of the reader in the way of imagination.
Few may know her, though, for her beautiful nature journals. Her entry of a painted lady butterfly, zooming in specifically on the wing scales, or magnified studies of a ground beetle’s leg and elytra reveal hours she spent noticing. I marvel at how long it must have taken her to know amphibian structures and behaviors to craft a tale with such specificity. In “The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher,” she portrays a frog punting like on the River Cam, fishing, and nibbling butterfly sandwiches. She draws him dipping his foot in the pond, swimming, and leaping across the meadow in his tattered macintosh. What would she have imagined the Northern Leopard frog thinking as it zigzagged through my lawn last summer? Why did it have to come from the far-away canal across concrete and road to my home before I noticed its distinctive snoring and clicking croak or learned to appreciate its tenacity?
Potter found equal perfection in “the highest and the lowest in nature,” aware and eager to capture it all with imagination and detail. As our world greens this spring, I hope we take time to sit and sketch the wonders, even if we don’t have the courage to eat “roasted grasshopper with lady-bird sauce.”
As I write this, I’m babysitting grandkids in Cedar City. I find relief from the little rascals by
handing them off to grandma while I retreat to surrounding pinyon-juniper forests, affectionally titled PJ forests.
Bird calls instantly transform my thoughts to these pygmy forest’s abundant offerings- muffled laughing calls of pinyon jays, twittering of juniper titmice, raucous scrub jays. Drawn by
swooping ravens, I approach a juniper overlooking the canyon below. Thirty feet away, an immature golden eagle sits on a Juniper branch expressing its displeasure by twisting a gold-
mantled head to face the marauders with fierce eyes.
Further up the trail, five mule deer dart though the shadows. A black tailed jackrabbit bolting from its sage hideout startles me. Wishing for binoculars, a flock of sparrow-sized birds fly
across. I attempt to imagine them as juncos, without success. Tomorrow I will return with optics in hand to solve the mystery.
Pinyon Juniper are the dominant forest type in Utah. Much like the sage Steppe biotic community, at first glance one is deluded by the apparent lifeless monotony of this landscape.
To the contrary, both have a high biodiversity. These forests have around 450 species of vascular plants living alongside pinyon pines and junipers. Additionally, over 150 vertebrate
species of animals including elk, mule deer, and bear call pinyon-juniper forests home either seasonally or throughout the year.
Junipers are a birders paradise. The trees offer sites for perching, singing, nesting, and drumming. They also yield plentiful berries (actually spherical cones) and house a high insect
diversity for birds to consume. Mammals also eat the berries while seeking shelter in hollow juniper trunks, taking advantage of the trees’ shade in hot temperatures and the trees’ thermal
cover in the cold. Pinyon pines offer similar benefits to forest-dwellers. Pinyon mice, Abert’s squirrels, cliff chipmunks, Uinta chipmunks, wood rats, desert bighorn sheep, and black bears
all eat pinyon pine nuts.
For millennia, our own species have been dependent on the pinyon pine for their variable bounty of highly nourishing pine nuts. A staple of the Paiute, Goshute, Ute, and Shoshone, their
lives revolved around the fall harvest with elaborate ceremonies to pay homage for their life sustaining food value. It continues to the present, and we Euromericans have joined them in fall
harvest here in the Intermountain west, including my children and grandchildren.
Like the sage steppe, the pinyon juniper forest has been misunderstood, and under-appreciated for its critical role in the lives of so many species that would not exist without it, nor would
atmospheric carbon be stored in their fiber and their soils. Chaining and other “treatments” are highly controversial given the aesthetic impact of once vibrant forest replaced with piles of
uprooted trees and torn soils. Compounding this, recent decades have witnessed more severe drought and heat events making them vulnerable to insect and disease attacks, and catastrophic fire. We must practice utmost care in how we manage this priceless resource.
Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, loving wild Utah and its PJ forests
This is Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, loving wild Utah and its PJ forests!
Tausch, R.J., Miller, R.F., Roundy, B.A., and Chambers, J.C., 2009, Piñon and juniper field guide: Asking the right questions to select appropriate management actions: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1335, 96 p., https://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1335/circ1335.pdf