Monday, May 02, 2005

Notes From My Knapsack 05-08-05
Jeff Gill

Free Flowers For Mother’s Day!

When the layered vistas of Spring give way to the glossy green sheen across the landscape of Summer, part of me starts looking forward to Fall.
We have an absolutely beautiful season all around us, and I’ll take the occasional chill and regular splat of rain showers for having the riot of life a’blossoming right now. Those who are urging, whether through spoken hopes, silent prayers, or the stray vulgar imprecation that summer get here sooner may have their hopes dashed if I get my way.
Now we have a rainbow of tulips shooting across the leading edges of house landscaping, flowering pear and crabapples in a wide range of bright colors, magnolias blossoming pink-fringed and reaching, while the carpet of dandelions is rolling out where welcomed or not.
Out in the woods, you can still see the upper canopy through the young, small leaves, and some of the songbirds now passing through from the tropics to the tundra, or at least heading that way. (Did you hear about the ivory billed woodpecker in Arkansas, back from the invisible edge of extinction? We won’t have ‘em here, but the pileated woodpecker is a local, and nearly the same size and markings: awesome.)
Along the forest floor, the May apples are pushing up their green single-leaf umbrellas, but no fruit below as yet. Don’t try eating one ‘til August, when they’re yellow.
Day lilies are starting to show some stage presence as well, along with next week’s annuals at the garden centers.
Here in Licking County most woodlots are hard to wander through, since the effect of historic overtimbering, combined with a general lack of management as the forests mature, means that the understory of your local woods is filled with undergrowth, spicebush and raspberry and multifloral rose, woven with grapevine.
I used to wonder as a Boy Scout at Camp To-pe-nee-bee, whenever I got off trail, how the Indians managed to move through the forests at all, let alone silently. It wasn’t until I got quite a bit older that I learned how occasional natural fires, and even regular intentional burns, were used by Native Americans all across the continent to keep undesirable plants from growing, especially to maintain prairies.
In fact, some of the archaeological work at the Newark Earthworks in recent years has shown that the area around the Great Circle and Octagon (see was artificially maintained even 2000 years ago, with oak-hickory forests all about, but prairie soil still the context for the four square miles of mounds and enclosures. That’s how they had the space to build and the sightlines to view the moonrises over the eastern horizon.
All of this is fairly normal subject matter for this column, as long time readers know. But today it’s worth noting that my tendency to not just look at, but to “see” the natural landscape, and even the history and prehistory just beneath that landscape, was given to me by my mother’s mother, and by my mother. Grandma Walton is at rest under Illinois prairie, with Spring flowers all around Grandview Cemetery.
Rose Gill is sitting with her well-worn Peterson Guide to North American Birds, a pair of binoculars, and a back porch full of birdfeeders, on a ridge just off the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom, and I can warn you that the chickadees and warblers are coming your way!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; if you have rare (or extinct!) bird sightings to share, e-mail

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