Today I’m making my annual pilgrimage to greet the coltsfoot. Regardless of what the calendar says, in spite of three-inch daffodils with swelling buds, bursting forsythia buds, sprouting tiger lilies, and red buds on trees across the landscape, spring is not official until coltsfoot blossoms dot the banks of our winding, wooded road. Every year the first flowers celebrate the vernal equinox by raising their faces to the sun on one specific bend, a third of a mile down the way. These blossoms are swallows with roots.
I stretch as I begin my walk, working out winter kinks. My body lengthens. A spring enters my step, and I breathe deeply, noting a hint of wild garlic on the gentle breeze. About 800 feet down the way I scan the barren hillside meadow, foreseeing fragrant blackberry and wild rose blossoms across the top in six more weeks. Just past the grassy slope, a golden gleam catches my eye. Coltsfoot! And I’m only halfway to the site of its traditional debut.
My heart floods with joyful delight as I pull out my camera and shoot a couple of pictures. Then a slight movement to the side startles me. When I see what it is, I kneel down in fascination for a closer look. A tiny garter snake solemnly stares back. It’s thinner than my finger and perhaps a foot long. Dark spots adorn a dull rusty-brown back and creamy yellow belly. I remain transfixed for half a minute before I slowly move my camera into place. The snake pays no heed, curiously flicking its miniscule red tongue. I snap several shots, then pause.
On a whim I reach cautiously down with my left index finger, stroking its back ever so gently. It remains perfectly still. It feels like a snake–cool and dry to the touch, smoothly beady. I briefly consider picking it up, but I’m still holding my camera and besides, I don’t think I’d like to be handled by some huge monster. I stroke its back a few more times and spend several more minutes with the camera before I capture the red tongue.
Finally I stand up and finish the half mile walk to the stop sign, floating on the magic of stroking the wild baby snake. Signs of spring abound. I see more coltsfoot. Tiny plantain leaves and beady sedum peek up from between dead leaves, and wild garlic is everywhere. The emerging wonders of spring shove aside the horror of recent catastrophes across the Pacific and remind me that life springs eternal, that to everything there is a time and place, and light follows darkness.
As I walk back to the house I feel rejuvenated, freed from the grip of ice and snow, ready to skip and play, rejoice in the freedom of light clothing and warm temperatures, and write of faith, hope and love. I come in the house, press my white pants, and polish my sandals. Any day now I shall wear them.
Sharon Lippincott looks forward to spring in Pittsburgh where she teaches lifestory writing and Writing for the Health of It.