Coping with COVID: Spring Beauties!
By Eddee Daniel
First the grass of lawns grew boldly green. The hints in woodlands remained subtle; a diaphanous blush of yellow-green buds, some early wildflowers poking up through leaf litter, each according to its time: delicate blue Hepatica and asterisks of stark white Bloodroot, dashing yellow Marsh Marigolds in the wetlands. Spring Beauties. Ah! But more about them in a moment. This was the week spring sprang.
It was also the week when state parks reopened, after a three-week hiatus. Naturally, on May 1, the first day it was again possible, I went out, not just to one but two state parks. First, a return to Lapham Peak, the scene of my early awakening to the phenomenon of crowds in the parks. What a difference three weeks (and closure) makes! Though immediately busy, it was nothing like before. More like normal, I’d say, for a nice weekend day in spring (it was Friday, so maybe not quite normal for a weekday.)
More importantly, the people I encountered were keeping their distance far more than when I was last there. Admittedly, it wasn’t exactly a fair comparison since I stayed out in the wide open spaces of Evans Prairie and Schoeninger Savanna rather than on narrower woodland trails.
Later I made my way west to the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest and even more wide open spaces. Although pleasant enough for spring, it wasn’t nearly beach weather and yet there were a few hardy souls on the sand at Ottawa Lake. A couple of eager tots even splashed cheerfully in the chilly water.
Scuppernong Springs Trail was as popular as ever. Here I tended to be the one who stepped to the side on the narrow trail to let others pass. I suppose I could have found a less well-traveled trail in such a vast park. On the other hand, I met—from six feet or farther—some nice people, including this young couple, Jason and Elyssa, each sporting cameras like me.
Size matters. But size is also relative. Case in point, the Spring Beauty. As wildflowers go, they are miniscule, low to the ground and easy to miss, especially in the woodland settings where they are common. But they are adaptable and can sometimes be found in lawns, which is where I came upon one of the most astounding arrays of them this week in Milwaukee’s McGovern Park. A single Spring Beauty blossom is no bigger than my pinky fingernail but hundreds of them together can make quite a sensation.
The size of a park matters too. McGovern can’t compete with the Southern Kettle Moraine, which sprawls over more than 22,000 acres. But for the inner-city neighborhood where it’s located, McGovern Park is substantial. Its 61 acres is large enough to contain seven basketball courts, a tennis court, softball diamond, sand volleyball court, soccer field, playground, five picnic areas, a senior center and three parking lots. But, significantly, over a third of the park has been left in a more natural state, including a large woodland and picturesque twin-lobed pond connected under a gracefully arched stone pedestrian bridge. Three small islands in the pond are especially attractive to wildlife.
The woodland in McGovern Park is home to one of the loveliest arrays of spring ephemeral wildflowers anywhere in Milwaukee. The Spring Beauties, which spill out across the surrounding lawns, are merely the vanguard. Wild Geranium and Wood Anemones abound. Trout Lilies and Trillium are especially prolific. Where should people go to enjoy a bit of nature if they can’t drive all the way to the Kettle Moraine, they can’t drive at all, or they simply choose to honor the current directive to stay close to home? Neighborhood parks like McGovern fill this need.
While I was admiring the flowers, I met Jeena and James walking through the park. They live nearby, they told me. And yes, they’ve been “doing ok” during the shutdown, they said when I asked. They were happy to pose for me, from an appropriate distance, before going on their way. Spring beauty comes in many forms and neighborliness doesn’t know a season. Won’t it be nice when finally we don’t have to keep the strangers—and friends—we meet at arm’s length? In the meantime, don’t forget to go out and smell the flowers.
Here is a selection of images from some of the other places I visited this week in my quest to see what folks are doing during the COVID shutdown.
This is the seventh installment in our “Coping with COVID” series. Here are the previous ones:
Remember, our “Find-a-Park” map is here to help you— yes! —find a park. Please observe safe personal hygiene and social distancing guidelines when you head out for fresh air, exercise and a healthy dose of nature. And, as always, take only pictures and leave only footprints.
To see the complete set of chronological images from over 100 different places taken during the COVID-19 shutdown, go to Eddee’s Flickr album.
The featured image at the top is from Bong State Recreation Area in Kenosha County. Eddee Daniel is a board member of Preserve Our Parks and A Wealth of Nature Project Director. All images in today’s photo essay were shot in the past week.