Winter green

March sunlight

It’s been cold, the past few days, and very quiet. The four-lane highway just over the ridge to the west has been virtually inaudible, even at dawn. Every day the sun inches a little higher in the sky; the long low light of winter is coming to an end. The evergreen leaves of the mountain laurel, shot through with sunlight, burn with the fire of an eternal spring — especially when we don’t have a deep snowpack leaching sulfuric and nitric acid into the soil from the coal-burning power plants of the Ohio Valley. In past years, I’ve watched up to half the leaves on some laurel bushes acquire lurid splotches and die within a week of melt-off.

silver barn

I climb to the top of what we call Laurel Ridge — the one my front porch looks out on — but there’s no snow anywhere. The fields to the east are a muted yellow, and the hillsides look as brown as November, with no sign of a blush from swollen buds. I watch a train wind past the village of Ironville a mile away, and except for the fact that it’s not black and white, I might as well be watching a silent movie. A pickup truck moves slowly down the village’s single street. It occurs to me that the only actual human beings I’ve seen from this ridgetop are the Amish farmers, on occasion — tiny figures from here, especially by contrast with their enormous barn.

I go back down into the hollow, zig-zigging through the laurel, careful not to slip on the leaf litter which the snows we did get earlier on have pressed into a flat slick surface, like the pelt of a well-groomed pet. Though it’s only mid-afternoon, the other side of the hollow is already in shadow. Among the hemlocks at the bottom of the gorge, shining in the sun, is a bluish-white snake: Plummer’s Hollow Run gurgles and whispers under scales of ice, all that’s left of winter.

stream ice

I suddenly realize how hungry I am. I look down and spy a pair of pink teaberries a few inches from my right boot. They are dry and half-frozen, but twice as sweet as they would’ve been last fall when they were fresh. One doesn’t often think of winter as a time for ripening, but of course it is. Some things need a cold season to bring out their full character; the rosehips in my front garden are also at their peak of flavor now. I follow the ribbon of ice upstream toward home, my mouth filled with the pleasant fragrance of methyl salicylate — wintergreen.

7 Replies to “Winter green”

  1. Oh Dave this makes me want to be there…the moment just before the opening is one of my favorite times of year, and I treasure its gifts. You have presented them perfectly; the silence,the sharp tasty treat,the dusky frozen duff, and the tantalizing pause before the ascent. I love the ice and the wintergreen. As always, thank you.

  2. I used to love teaberry gum when I was a child and it was available, before the whole world of chewing gum was named Wrigley’s, but I’ve never seen an actual teaberry.

    Very nice post.

  3. Really nice to go walking with you today, Dave. The photos are beautiful – I especially like the ice. That taste of wintergreen means spring to me too and reminds me of my mom and me finding some under the snow each spring.

  4. Yes, I too love these posts: the walks with you as you show us around; the evocative, multi-sense imagery; the reminders of a world leaving behind the cold, damp and dark while we head the opposite way. The light in those first two photos has such a strong character I can almost feel it, and the ice photo’s a cracker.

  5. Thanks for coming along, y’all (and for persisting in leaving comments despite the sluggishness of the site). This is an underappreciated time of year, I’ll grant you that. I’m not sure if I appreciate too much myself how non-snowy it is right now, though the folks to the east of us probably don’t want to hear that! As for teaberry/wintergreen, we don’t have any area on the mountain where one can pick handfuls at a time, they’re very scattered, but in places that do, I’ve found it’s really difficult to eat too many at once. It’s a taste that demands to be savored.

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