Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dutchman's breeches, here and gone

Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman’s breeches), more than any other flower, speaks to me about time. Sometime in early April it appears on the rugged rocky slopes that rim the Delaware River on the Pennsylvania side. It flags me from an elevated ledge, or an almost vertical incline covered with a scant inch or two of mossy soil, and I think of years past. A dozen years ago it was a symbol for the exhilaration of being set free from my job in a tax office. Decades before that it was a curious tooth-like childhood curiosity. The first warm day of spring I begin skimming the hills in anticipation. When will it appear? How long will it stay? A burst of unseasonal hotness might cause it to disappear just a week or two after blooming, beneath fiddleheads and grasses and jewelweed seedlings. Or it might cling to the hills for three whole weeks. The queen bumblebee emerges from her hole in the ground and finds the odd-shaped flowers just right for her long tongue. After she pollinates, the flowers become seeds with tasty appendages that ants find so irresistible that they carry them away to their nests, leaving trails of the fertile seeds strewn on the forest floor.

I’ve thought about transplanting a clump of Dutchman’s breeches into my garden, but fear that it would spoil the fun. Such a delicate thing should grow in great wild expanses where it can present an ephemeral banquet to queen bees, and to those of us who care enough to notice.  Its time to shine, between snow cover and leaf emergence, is fleeting—it flaunts its breeches, than vanishes for another year until April comes again. Another year of driving to New Jersey. Another year of planting zinnias and tomatoes, and watching grandchildren grow taller. Another year of resolving to focus on what’s important in this life that passes so astonishingly quickly.
Another increasingly abbreviated year.

1 comment:

  1. What an amazing story about the queen bumblebee with the long tongue. I suppose after the Dutchman's breeches disappear there is some other flower for her.