an understory

There’s a trail near us where I like to walk in spring because of an abundance of prince’s-pine, a lovely wintergreen found in the understory. This is Chimaphila umbellata and I’m only writing the scientific name now for the pleasure of what’s contained in it. Chimaphila comes from the Greek cheima, which means “winter”, and philos is “love” or “loving”, but a bit more complicated than that. Philos is the kind of love associated with friendship. The New Testament Greek lexicon offers this: “one of the bridegroom’s friends who on his behalf asked the hand of the bride and rendered him various services in closing the marriage and celebrating the nuptial”And the specific name, umbellata, refers to the umbels of flowers on the stalk. When the plant is blooming, the flowers are pink and lightly scented and there’s enough of the prince’s-pine on this trail that you can walk under the tunnel of green and smell them. Not quite almond-y — that’s Linnaea borealis (or twin-flower), and both John and I have been known to bend to the ground (it gets harder every year!) to bury our faces in twin-flower. It’s best to smell it in the mornings, when the air is a little damp. Anyway, the prince’s-pines are sweet too. Because we had such a mild winter, I hoped (though not very hard) that they might be blooming already. And they’re not. But there are many many plants and we’ll return in a few weeks.


So much coming up, so much to look at — the Pacific bleeding heart,

bleeding heart


the beginnings of orchids, both Goodyera oblongifolia, or the Rattlesnake Plantain:

rattlesnake plantain.JPG

and Spiranthes romanzofficiana, or Ladies’ tresses, named for Count Romanzoff, who was a 19th century Russian patron of scientific exploration (and Imperial Chancellor) and who sponsored the first Russian circumnavigation of the globe. Look at this one. You can see last year’s flower stalk!

ladies tresses.JPG

Some days we walk and talk, we discuss poetry, the chores ahead, we remember walks with our children, the dogs of the past, we recite our granddaughter Kelly’s wildly specific vocabulary — Moon. Oats. Socks. Happy. Ducks. — , and some days we are more quiet, noticing every new plant, pausing to move aside a fallen branch so an orchid can come to its full potential. Like this one, coming to life in the understory.


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