Winter blues have you down? Spring actually is revving up all over, if you know where to look in the Puget lowlands, home to mild winters and native plants already breaking into spring buds.
On the Wolf Tree Nature Trail at Seattle’s Discovery Park, wonders are everywhere to see. Be welcomed by the raven’s call to a trail that reveals the first signs of spring.
Follow your nose to the buds on the Indian plum — give the emerging green buds a squeeze to release the fresh scent of cucumber. It won’t be long before these, among the earliest of all native shrubs to break bud, produce beautiful pendant white tresses of flowers.
The twigs of bigleaf maple and red alder, cast to the ground by winter’s wind, show their thrusting buds, just ready to make this year’s leaves. The windfall branches and twigs allow an up-close view of just how fat the buds have grown. It won’t be long now before they burst.
Take a closer look: The alder buds already have broken through their scales and are rosy pink. This is the red blush seen all over the alders right now.
Walk further down the trail and the sword ferns abiding through winter invite closer inspection. With a bit of fingertip digging through last year’s fronds and leaf litter, see that this year’s gift awaits: tight, unfurled crosiers.
These are the buds readying for the circinate vernation that will slowly, like a graceful dancer, unfurl fiddleheads into this year’s new fronds.
The sound of streams, loud with the recent rains, is the music to follow to the forested wetlands through which the trail, on a boardwalk, winds. Here with dry feet can be enjoyed the juicy wetlands with one of spring’s earliest delights: the first sign of swamp lantern, the skunk cabbage that provides an early feast for pollinators.
Just visible now are the first tips of the emerging plants. It is hard to imagine from these modest beginnings the show that will soon be available, for this is one of the biggest displays anywhere in a Seattle park of broad swaths of Lysichiton americanum, with its sunny yellow spathes and large waxy green leaves, growing more than a foot long by summer.
The tiny white flowers within the spathe are an important food source for the first pollinators of the year.
All along the stream are harbingers of the verdant splendor just starting to come on: nettles. These fresh green sprouts are among the first vitamin-rich native plants of the year. It won’t be long before they are a size for harvest, ready to made into delicious nettle pesto and other tonic treats.
The nettles rise through the dead leaves and other winter kill that is necessary to feed the soil, completing the cycle of life.
Fungi skirt a downed log, aglow in a sun break’s vital rays. Tiny bugs spring from the holes they use to access the moist, succulent wood within.
On every wet surface, moss and lichen are aglow, with the plump fresh green they wear in the rainy season.
Lichen advances its slow quiet spread on a wet trunk. Lichen is not a plant at all but a cooperative society of algae and fungi. They silently teach the lessons of mutualism, with each providing what the other needs.
Cedars all along the trail are pushing out fresh new growth, visible at the tips of its branches, glazed with rain and spangled with silvery drops.
A nature trail is set aside in the park for walking only, no dogs are permitted here, and jogging is discouraged, to preserve this as a place for quiet contemplation.
The large swaths of park not fragmented by trails also allow space for wildlife to flourish, especially species such as winter wrens that forage in the shrubs and understory.
The trail is alive with bird song year round. Seen here are everyday delights such as chickadees, kinglets and nuthatches, to Cooper’s hawks and even in some years the tiny northern Saw-whet owl, in addition to common barred owls.
Always there is the freshness of the air and sense of vitality all around, in a place bursting with and nurturing life.
“I just like to breathe the air out here,” said Rio Montana, who turned out with fellow volunteer forest steward Phillip Osborne on a recent morning to remove invasive blackberries from the woods. “That’s a constant battle,” Osborne said with a cheery wave, heading down the trail, mattock in hand.
The species list on Montana’s blog shows just how many native birds, shrubs, trees and plants can be enjoyed on this trail.
A huckleberry springing from a crumbling cedar stump offered, with its fresh buds, its teaching that new life can be enjoyed in the first weeks of the year right now, as the forest continually renews itself.
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