Where the Trilliums Bloom
Posthumous entry with the blessing of his wife,
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
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.”
Website editor thought after reading this story of a
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?