The nettles are up, the ferns are budding and frogs singing: Officially, spring is a month away, but it’s arriving already.
The calendar says spring is a month away. But the frogs say different.
Already the flutelike piping of the tiny and outsizedly loud Pacific tree frogs can be heard in the evening as they perform their spring love songs.
Used to attract their mates, the call of the frogs may be heard all the way into June, depending on nighttime temperatures. The warmer it is, the more raucous the chorus as males compete.
The Wolf Tree Nature Trail at Discovery Park is a study in spring.
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Fuzzy nubs at the base of sword ferns are the start of this year’s fronds, coiled tight and ready to, well, spring into new growth.
Indian plum has put out its first leaves, upright and clasped like praying hands over the heads of white blossoms. The flowers are just beginning to tumble loose into the pendant tresses that will soon festoon every branch.
The stream that crosses the valley bottom of the trail is in full voice from recent rains. It courses past bright yellow spathes of skunk cabbage, so brilliant they earn the common name of a most uncommon beauty: swamp lantern.
The fresh, green leaves with their eponymous skunky scent are shiny and new and just starting to grow toward the luxuriant size that makes them handy sunshades. Just pick and carry.
Alder twigs blown down in late-winter storms show the seasonal changes already underway, with buds cracked open to new leaves, and catkins firm and bright green. In another month, some will develop the tiny flowers that detonate a pollen bomb resented all over Puget Sound country.
Alnus rubra puffs a fairy dust of chartreuse pollen on the spring breeze, coating windshields and tormenting hay-fever sufferers.
In the understory, last fall’s leaves softened by winter’s rainfall are punctuated with the first growth of stinging nettle. Fierce platoons of new growth poke through the lush, chocolaty brown forest duff.
The nettles’ growing tips look soft and fuzzy — but don’t be fooled. Each stem glistens with tiny spines packing the sting that give the plant its name.
Everywhere are the sounds of birds. Hummingbirds click their mechanical alert to anyone challenging their tiny kingdom. Bright jewels on the wing, their buzzing flight enlivens the woods. Chickadees started calling for mates weeks ago. The Bewick’s wrens are busy.
Overhead, the tree canopy is newly complex, the austere lines of winter given way now to the promise of swelling buds. Sunshine, when we get it, is higher, stronger and actually has some warmth to it now, enough to sometimes leave the coat in the car.
The understory is flooded with light spilling through bare branches. The forest floor is lit more intensely now, with the leaves still off and the sun ascendant toward the spring equinox.
By May, the tree canopy will leaf out and hog the sun, but for now, the spring ephemerals are basking. In gardens, crocus and snowdrop show clean and bright in their brief but long-awaited display.
Flowers this small are overlooked in the abundance yet to come, rhododendrons tall as trees cascading with bloom. But right now, each flower is noticed.
Pussy willows have put out their silky gray catkins, arrayed along twigs yet to leaf out.
This far north and west, each hour of light, as Seattle swings back toward the sun, is noticed, clocked, savored. On March 12 at 2 a.m., it will be time to spring forward.
Just like the plants and animals already in the swing of a new season.