Sick of the cold, searching for spring

At some point every winter it becomes impossible to keep pretending I like cold weather and I look for the slightest encouragement possible to go in search of spring. Usually, I can hold out to mid- to late February. With this year’s unrelenting cold I only made it until Friday. When the temperature hit a balmy 50 degrees mid afternoon, I closed shop, got out the the day hikers and headed to Umstead.

If you’re familiar with the piedmont of North Carolina you know that finding even the earliest harbingers of spring on January 28 is the mission of a daft man. Under the mildest of circumstances, the best sign of emerging life that one can hope for this early is the migration of spotted salamanders from their overwintering homes underground to their breeding spots in vernal pools. That, however, doesn’t happen until the first warm rains of the year, and what precipitation we have had has been in the form of cold, often to the point of being solid, rain. The best I could expect was to stumble upon a thermal pocket offering shelter to a dainty hepatica with its vibrant violet pedals, or a shy trout lily whose downcast bloom sprouts unobtrusively from the flower’s showier mottled green leaves.

I’ll end the suspense early: I found no evidence that spring is just around the corner. No hepatica blooms flashed from the coppery brown forest floor, no trout lily blooms towered above their leaves. I did see a number of trout lily leaves, mostly in protected draws, but no hint of blooms. Much as I crave the return of warm — even lukewarm will do — weather, there remains much to be said for a winter hike.

A few images from the hike … .

4 thoughts on “Sick of the cold, searching for spring”

  1. Trout lilies in January? Like you I look for the first spotting of of the season of this plant. I believe the earliest was Feb. 11 in Duke Forest, Korstian Division. Sorry for being a Doubting Thomas, but do you have a picture? Did not see one in the slideshow accompanying the article.

    1. Heavens to Mergatroyd, Jim! I’ve mistaken the mottled leaves of the trout lily with the heart-shaped mottled leaves of wild ginger! What an incredible rookie mistake; I need to get out on the Eno River Association’s Spring Wildflower Hikes when they start in March. Apologies for the false alarm. I’ll take a wildflower guide on my next scouting trip. (Any recommendations?)

      1. Sure. A good starter for this area is Wildflowers of North Carolina (Second Edition) by William S. Justice, C. Ritchie Bell, and Anne H. Lindsay.
        The other plant, in case you did not know, is Spotted Wintergreen, also called Pipsissewa.
        And while we’re on the subject… in your 100 Hikes book the picture of the tree taken at Johnston Mill Nature preserve is a sycamore — not a beech as you say in the book. I’m by no means a botanist, but you may want to check with one before you ID plants for publication.

      2. Thanks for the guidebook top. I don’t believe I’ve seen that particular guide; I have “Fall Color and Woodland Harvests” by Bell & Lindsay and it’s nicely done. Especially like the pocket guide you can take on the trail.

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