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2013 Writing Prompt is: "The funniest thing happened in Auburn"

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Where the Trilliums Bloom

By C.H. Malesis

Posthumous entry with the blessing of his wife, Barbara Malesis

Running fifty feet down a precipitous hillside bordering the White River Valley’s western perimeter is a gully. Narrowing as it follows the slope’s gradient until a pocket of natural growth protected from man’s intrusion is formed. Created by a small landslide many years ago it is now a permanent part of the landscape. Over time, decaying leaves, brambles, brush and branches on the forest floor have composted to form a rich bed of top soil.

Despite being a natural funnel for surface water trapped by underlying hardpan, the gravelly soil is protected from erosion by networks of sword and bracken fern, salad and bunch grass. This bulwark is further fortified by spreading root systems of vine maple and alder trees. A dogwood clings precariously to the upper slope. Each spring it lends a splash of contrasting white to dark green evergreens. Masses of salmonberry and devil’s club, nurtured by year around dampness, choke the bottom of the cut.

The gully annually provides a safe haven for a carpet of wildflowers. Undisturbed for many years, clumps of white trillium blossoms grace the dun forest floor each spring. Maturing, they assume telltale pink and lavender tints rivaling the reddish blooms of neighboring bleeding heart. From time to time a rare deers-foot orchid, one of the few representatives of that exotic breed native to Washington’s rain forest, grows on decaying windfalls.

Despite its neighbor’s beauty and the orchid’s rarity, the trillium continues to be monarch of the western woods. Botanists gave it the Latin name of Trillium ovatum, common folk called it Wake Robin. Some early settlers got it mixed up with Erythronium oregonium, the Dog-Tooth Violet, or true wild Easter lily.

 

 

As delicate as a young girl’s glance and fragile as a lover’s promise, it is a fitting symbol of our beautiful Pacific Northwest woodlands. It cannot be picked and used as a cut flower. It will die despite your best efforts at preservation. Transplanted with care it may survive, but only in surroundings very similar to its native habitat.

Appearing in the sun dappled shade of the forest floor from mid-April until the end of May, it has largely gone unnoticed by everyone but kids and spring fisherman. Almost every child that emerges from a long, wet, gray Washington winter is delighted to spy a clump of snow-trilliums. In a child’s world, seeing is believing and here is one of nature’s wonders nodding its cheery greeting.  “Spring is here.”

Once its blooms brightened our forests wherever trees gave shade. Now it retreats on a broad front extending from the shores of Puget Sound to the snow line of the Cascades. Huge residential sub-divisions, with acres of concrete streets and sidewalks, keep encroaching on its habitat. Shelter from man’s interpretation of progress is found in deep canyons and on steep hillsides.

No one knows how long it has thrived in the damp, shady glens of our rain forests, but this much I believe.

It was here when early native aborigines wandered over the Bering Sea land bridge to Alaska. It was here when Hudson’s Bay explorers fought their way through swamps and brush of a river basin that would later be called the White River Valley. It observed early settlers roping their wagons down Naches Pass’s steep inclines.

Trilliums bloomed on what would later be known as Cemetery Hell when early settlers platted a community call Slaughter. A few years later as eh community grew and memories faded the name was changed to Auburn, a name that fell more softly on increasingly sensitive ears.

 

 

 

 

This shy forest dweller, that blooms for such a short time, is bonded with the residents of the small town celebrating its 100th birthday in 1991. They, too, as time is measured by nature, will be here only a short time. The length and width of their tracks will be measured I many ways. Even the least of them will be remembered by someone.

To be born and grow up in the White River Valley is to be part of its history. History has a long arm but in the final analysis, is nothing but memories. The feel of damp grass on bare feet early in the morning; the sweetness of the summer’s first wild strawberry; the sun’s heart on the back of your neck at the end of a long day in the berry fields; riding on your first bicycle; your surprise at how soft a girl’s lips really are; driving an automobile all by yourself; the feel of that first paycheck with our name on it; lying in a warm bed on a fall night listening to the far off honking of south bound Canadian geese; seeing your infant son for the first time; losing your job; wondering how you’ll make the mortgage payment; going through the motions at a funeral home; noticing the first gray hair when you look in a mirror; hearing a steam locomotive’s whistle wailing down the valley late at night, even though you know there hasn’t been a steam train on that line for twenty years; thinking of lost changes and missed opportunities; wondering if you’d have made it – if you had only tried; holding your first grandchild; thinking you’re going to too many funerals all of a sudden; being called “Pops” by some forty year old squirt; spending more time thinking about how good it was then how good it’s going to be.

When this moment comes in your lifetime, you will suddenly realize where the trilliums bloom. They bloom in your heart and the memories of those you loved. And the message will be the same as ever, “Spring is here, Spring is here.”

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Website editor thought after reading this story of a great writer:

I had to ask myself, when was the last time I saw a Trillium?  (which was truly my favorite flower as a child) Are they still there or do I just forget to look for them? Share with me if you have seen one lately. Would you please?

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