This is the spring of the year. Birds are migrating north to their breeding-places; the melted snows are escaping to the sea…The element of water prevails…What a conspicuous place Nature has assigned to the skunk-cabbage, the first flower to show itself above the bare ground! What occult relation is implied between this plant and man? Thoreau, Journal, 4/18/52
Nearby, a needle-softened slope under big pines tips just so to the south; it cups the March sun, and, after the ice vanished one night from the pond it fronts, I’ve been watching that slope. There, today, a few days early (and before the weekend’s once predicted snow), I saw spring. Or at least one of Henry Thoreau’s favorite signs of the season.
Skunk cabbage grows to be large, green and glossy, but when it first peeks around above ground, it’s hard to spot. Often it shows one or two little horns above the mottled leaves of last year, and those horns have a rich green redness that blends well with the dun ground.
What will follow? seems the question of all first shoots, and in years past, at bog’s edge, I’ve seen a whole green village of cabbage. But here, near the equinox, somehow the future seems an open question; there’s no guaranteed answer. We could tip back to winter; we could go headlong into spring; we could for a while balance in the even light, warm on one side, cold on the other.
I kneel to look and imagine the body below the horn…or it could be a nose, or even a thumb… its imagined face looks up, feeling perhaps the new warmth on this sun slope. Nothing moves visibly. “What occult (Cramer translates as hidden or inscrutable) is implied between this plant and” me?
But now the sun has warmed my back, and I feel the fibers of cloth stir; unrooted animal that I am, I grow impatient, get ready to move on. It’s all about (to) change. For both of us.
coda: after a few photos, I break a tip from one of the horns and rub it between my fingers, and I find the distinctive scent’s not yet taken hold either; the cabbage hasn’t risen to ripe. That too seems assigned to later.