The splash of red is vivid and unexpected — wild columbine. I wouldn’t have looked for them this early, or at this bend in the trail, with the white trillium growing thickly up the slope. But I know columbine like marble and limestone boulders.
I was south of Great Barrington for a story interview, so I slipped out of my freelance rhythm for a few minutes to look for wildflowers. Bartholomew’s Cobble has a rare variety of spring ephemerals this time of year — the paths along the Housatonic can stand out, not always for the sheer number of blooms, but for how many different kinds you can see close together.
This year, warmer days earlier this month seem to have hurried some along, so that the last of the bloodroot are closing as the trout lilies and trillium open. I came on the kind of changeable day when a passing cloud can drop the temperature 10 degrees — and a gleam of sun can lift the raw cold and show the green in leaf buds.
And the columbine were an unexpected gift. Our wild eastern ones seem unusual in their brightness, but people around the world have paid attention to their cousins. In the Italian comedia dell’arte, Columbina was a dancer, a lover, an intelligent clear-eyed mover of the action.
According to the Oxford Journal of Experimental Botany, in Greek and Roman lore, ‘columbine was a plant of Aphrodite … and in Celtic culture, the flowers were supposed to open the door to the other world.’ So how do we turn the key … and what world can she lead us into?
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