Wild Ideas: Nature sets the stage for Earth Day 

With the frequent unseasonable warm spells, spring is changing the natural landscape overnight and setting the stage for Earth Day and other celebrations of nature and science coming up this weekend and next.

Where I live, redbuds blossomed all at once one day, with dogwood following a few days later. The pale-green blooms of spice bush that filled the mid-story of the forest has changed to a deeper green as the bush’s leaves unfurl, and every warm day brings new leaves out on other trees.

Cranesbill is among the many wildflowers now blooming in forests throughout our area.
The new leaves of Christmas ferns, known as fiddleheads, are beginning to unfurl. Photo by Pam Owen

Down on the ground, literally overnight, the pale blossoms of cutleaf toothwort disappeared, replaced the next morning with the magenta blooms of cranesbill (wild geranium), while star chickweed is adding white accents everywhere. Golden ragwort is blooming in damp locations at the forest’s edge, and the umbrella-like leaves of mayapple cover large parts of the forest floor anywhere there is light.

Golden ragwort is now blooming in shady, damp areas in and near the forest edge. Photo by Pam Owen

The round little flower bud dangling under each began to open by Monday — in some spots, joined by jack-in-the pulpit. Everywhere on the mountain, Ferns are unfurling their new fronds, known as “fiddleheads.”

The metamorphosis of bloom to seedpod on one plant species conjures up for me historical images of monarchs. The single green pod of each successfully pollinated bloodroot sticks straight up, with a broad green leaf rising almost vertically behind it and around its stem. Every time I see them, I think of the famous “Hardwick Hall” portrait of Queen Elizabeth I of England, with the elaborate collar framing her head.

The bloodroot seedpod wears its collar with royal dignity, not unlike Queen Elizabeth I in the painting (photo below) of her at Hardwick Hall. Photo by Pam Owen
Courtesy image

Despite the warm weather, mushrooms have been slow to bloom, probably because of the lack of rain. Keeping a daily watch on a favorite host stump of Dryad’s saddle, I was finally rewarded on Monday with seeing two small blooms of this fungus appearing on one thick stalk.

Butterflies and bees fill the air, especially in open areas. When I sit on the deck, they hover in front of me, probably trying to figure out whether I’m a rival. My dog, Mollie, hates all things that buzz, so some of these suitors have met their doom by assessing her too closely.

I rise in the morning to a cacophony of bird calls, mostly from year-round residents getting an early start claiming territory and luring in prospective mates. The white-throated sparrow, a winter resident, is one of the last to leave for breeding grounds in the north, spending much of its time here trying out its song repertoire. I haven’t seen many migratory birds coming up from the south yet, but I did have the pleasure of hearing a eastern towhee in the forest across the driveway from my house admonishing all who can hear him to “drink your tea, tea, tea.”

I was slow to get out my hummingbird feeder this year, but when I did last Sunday, within minutes a male flew to it, just like last year. More will soon show up, with the females coming a bit later.

I moved to Rappahannock County because, every time I step outside my door, I have the great pleasure of celebrating nature. It’s all around me here. This Saturday (Apr. 22), Earth Day, we can all celebrate it together, with Arbor Day coming a week later (Apr. 29).

Along with events specifically celebrating these special days, there are also other ways to appreciate our great “blue marble,” as the Apollo 17 crew dubbed Earth in a photograph they took of it in 1972 (see sidebar). Or celebrate on your own or with friends or family — take a hike, plant a tree, dance in the moonlight . . . As Margaret Atwood put it, “in the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”

© 2017 Pam Owen

Where to celebrate our great blue marble

“The Blue Marble,” a famous photograph of Earth shot from space in 1972 by the Apollo 17 crew. Courtesy of NASA

Earth Day and Arbor Day events: Earth Day celebrations are being held across Virginia, including at Airlie, north of Warrenton, where the idea originated more than 45 years ago, according to the Virginia Is For Lovers website: “Senator Gaylord Nelson first introduced his idea for Earth Day to a group of medical and law students participating in a conference at Airlie. The result was the first nationwide demonstration in support of the environment.

A composite image of the Western hemisphere of the Earth. Courtesy of NASA

Today, Earth Day is celebrated worldwide and continues to promote and raise environmental consciousness around the globe.” For more about Earth Day, go to earthday.org; to find the locations of Earth Day and Arbor Day events in Virginia, go to virginia.org/eartharborday.

March for Science: Join one of several of marches in Virginia and Washington, DC, that are taking place on Earth Day to celebrate and support science. “Science, scientists, and evidence-based policymaking are under attack,” says the event’s website. “Budget cuts, censorship of researchers, disappearing datasets, and threats to dismantle government agencies harm us all, putting our health, food, air, water, climate, and jobs at risk. It is time for people who support science to take a public stand and be counted.”

Shenandoah National Park events: Get a jump on Earth Day and enjoy the Starry Nights Festival at the Byrd Visitor Center tomorrow (Apr. 21) at 7:30 p.m. Hosted in conjunction with James Madison University’s Starry Nights program, the event includes a presentation and book signing by author Paul Bogard, who shares stories and experiences from his book, “The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light.” At 8:30 p.m., Shanil Virani, director of the John C. Wells Planetarium at JMU, presents a laser tour of the night sky, weather permitting. Check for updates on this “evolving” program at tinyurl.com/wi-snp-special.

Take advantage of free entrance to the park this weekend (Apr. 22-23), in honor of National Park Week, to celebrate nature. Bring the kids to Junior Ranger Day, at Dickey Ridge and Byrd Visitor Centers, to enjoy a full day of fun activities “designed to help children and families connect with parks in ways that engage them in exploring, learning, and practicing stewardship,” according to the park’s website. Find out about other ranger-led programs at tinyurl.com/wi-snpspring.


Pam Owen
About Pam Owen 338 Articles
Writer, editor, photographer, and passionate nature conservationist living in Rappahannock County, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Two favorite quotes: By E.O. Wilson, who coined the term "biodiversity," "Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction”; by Douglas Adams, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they pass by.”