May 2, 2014
6:30 am. I set off around the block with the beast, Belle the Belgian shepherd, who likes to herd everyone she meets. She terrifies passersby, with good reason, because she doesn’t want them to pass by, so I go out early and late.
We find a mysterious robin’s egg.
We find the purple of the snake’s head fritillary.
In the UK, they drop the punctuation and simply call it the snakeshead fritillary. There are many other common names for this member of the lily family, but really snakeskin fritillary would be the most apt. The nodding, bell-like flowers do not look like a snake’s head to me, but the checkered pattern is reminiscent of certain snake skins.The buds of the fritillary are at first deep magenta, and then when open exhibit the light-and-dark checkered pattern seen above.
Mid-afternoon. I set off to the Cornell Plantations, Cornell’s botanic garden, with a friend to go primrose hunting. There are masses of primroses, but they are not flowering yet.
We find a Japanese skunk cabbage instead.
And then more and more, their white flags artfully furled to catch our attention.
The Latin name of the Japanese skunk cabbage is unpronounceable and unspellable.
We find the speckled petals of the hellebore (Christmas rose).
Late afternoon. I am still thinking about the robin’s egg so I take Belle around the block again. The egg is still there as perfect as before. I had invented a story that maybe the wind wafted it there, but it would surely have broken, so that was not a good story. The robins came back about a month ago, in fact, so many that my neighbor called me. There must have been forty to fifty robins gabbling and babbling in our combined back yards. My husband pointed out that they were feasting on a plentiful crop of last year’s crabapples. The afternoon of the second day of their appearance the temperature plummeted. The weather report called for low teens that night. I worried about the robins and was happy to watch the whole group of them swoop one by one into the dense ivy that has covered almost the entire trunk of a locust tree in our front yard. As the sun went down, they chattered their way into the ivy’s foliage. By dark not a peep. No one would know that the bedraggled winter-burned ivy sheltered so many robins. Robins are quite territorial and thus sometimes termed antisocial, but they do travel in flocks when they migrate. The collective noun for a group of robins is a “wave.” Three or more robins together constitutes a wave! Surely my neighbor and I shared a tsunami of robins those few days before they moved on. So, I wondered about the robin’s egg. This time I turned it slightly. There was a hole on the back. Clearly a human hand had found it and placed it there in the notch of the tree. I have a new story in my head about how it got there. I’ll save it for further personal embellishment.
As Belle and I continue around the block, we find one of my favorite plants.
There are so many reasons to admire the dandelion. There can never be too many.
Keep walking, I remind myself. All it takes are footsteps. One walk leads to another.
We find a primrose I have grown from seed by the back door.
Night. The day is almost over, but I am still thinking about the luminous color of the robin’s egg seen in the half light of early morning.
I suppose I am simply amazed that the robin can create such a blue, and this particular egg was wrapped like a gift. I’ll keep walking.
P. S. I went to check on the fritillaries two days later and not one snake’s head was there nodding in the corner of the wall and the fence. The deer had eaten all five of the blossoms. The foliage remains, however, and the bulbs are safe underground. For an interesting article on Fritillaria, see “A checkered history” by Andy Byfield of Plantlife. Endangered in the wild because of habitat loss, the snake’s head fritillary has been rescued by horticulturalists.