A Year at Eagle Creek Park-Part 6 (The Big Show)

April 3, 2022

The end of March was tough this year, with never-ending cold, windy, rainy weather. And it seemed like the whole world was losing its mind, with Russia continuing to commit atrocities in Ukraine, a handful of cruel senators mistreating Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson at her historic US Supreme Court confirmation hearings, and Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars.

Can we overcome pain and darkness, with light, music, creativity, and nature?

The answer is YES. We have the freedom to see the beauty in life that is all around us.

Que up Eagle Creek Park, where THE BIG SHOW is taking place.

THE BIG SHOW, also known as the GREAT AWAKENING, is the park coming out of its winter slumber to show off its new spring clothes. For the next few months, fresh shapes and colors will be on display daily at the park, and you won’t want to miss a moment of the magic. If you are unable to travel to the park, just tune into my posts for a play-by-play analysis of spring miracles that will take your breath away!

So, let’s start with the endless sea of daffodils lining the cliff line trail south of the Ornithology Center.

Seeing these domesticated, perfectly shaped blooms in a decaying blanket of leaves under bare trees was a contrast begging for the attention of the late post-impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh. How he would have loved this scene! I can imagine him propping up his chair and easel at an angle on the hillside, painting furiously to finish a picture in a single sitting to capture the best light.

Not to be outdone by the daffodils were the tiny, elegant Virginia Spring Beauty flowers. It is easy to miss these delicate blooms if you are hiking at a quick clip. According to Wikipedia, this flower was used medicinally by the Iroquois to make cold infusions of the powdered roots for children suffering from convulsions. They would also eat the raw roots to prevent conception. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claytonia_virginica

Having admired some flowers, my husband Terry and I headed into the Bird Sanctuary, where we saw a young boy collecting a passel of mollusks called Chinese mystery snails. He was arranging his treasures on a bench, inspiring me to collect a similar trove.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources describes these creatures on its website:

Chinese mystery snails are small animals with a coiled spiral shell. They grow up to three inches tall and are olive colored. The shell opening is on the right when the shell is pointed up. They have an operculum (“trapdoor”) covering the opening, which is missing when the snail is dead and the shell is empty.

The Chinese mystery snail grazes on lake and river bottom material. They are called “mystery” snails because females give birth to young, fully developed snails that suddenly and “mysteriously” appear. Their lifespan is about four years. These snails can die off in large numbers and wash up on shore. https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/aquaticanimals/chinese-mystery-snail/index.html

Terry offered to help me find and photograph the snails but gave up after taking just one step into the mucky oozy mud by the water. This was understandable because he was wearing his new Hoka’s. If you’re not familiar with Hoka’s, and you love to run or walk, you should seriously consider purchasing these shoes. Terry and I started wearing Hoka’s in 2017, and now we won’t wear any other hiking shoe. We both ran too many miles over the years, which makes running today feel violent and uncomfortable. But Hoka’s gave us new life, enabling Terry to periodically do some light running, and allowing both of us to hike to our hearts’ content.

My daughter Connie claims that that I buy too many pairs of Hoka’s, rolling her eyes every time I purchase a new pair. I think I’ve only bought four pair of the shoes, but Connie thinks I bought additional pairs, with some of my oldest pairs being donated to Goodwill. In attempt to settle the debate, I photographed my Hoka’s in the order purchased. Who knows, Connie might be right, but I don’t think she is. And by the way, just so you know, she also wears Hoka’s.

April 4, 2022

The BIG SHOW continues, this time on the Bear Side of the park (west of the reservoir on 56th Street), where the best wildflowers bloom.

The first bloom we saw belonged to the Bloodroot plant. I’ve been OBSESSED by this plant for several years, ever since I heard Indiana Poet Laureate Norbert Krapf speak at the Dubois County Museum in Jasper, Indiana. After his talk, I purchased his book of Indiana inspired poems titled Bloodroot.

Like my husband, Norbert Krapf descended from German Catholic immigrants who in the mid-1800’s settled in the hills of Southern Indiana, most notably in Spencer and Dubois Counties. If you’ve spent time in this area, and if you love nature, Norbert’s poems will stir your soul! His poem about the Bloodroot plant mentions that the Potawatomi used juice from the plant’s red rootstock to make a tea to bathe burns and settlers squeezed the juice onto a lump of sugar they held in their mouth to cure sore throat.

Bloodroot emerges in early spring with a beautiful tall, rose-like white bud. When the buds are short, they are wrapped in a vampire-like cape of leaves, protecting them from unpredictable spring weather.

As the buds grow taller, the leaves eventually lower down, and the buds spread their petals. There are usually eight white petals that are so perfect that they look plastic.

Because I’m the curious type, I’ll admit that on a couple of occasions, I’ve dug up a Bloodroot plant to see the orange-red rhizome (a stem that grows underground). My husband is appalled when I do this, shaking his head and walking away to avoid seeing the destruction. But luckily for him, my Bloodroot digging days are now over because I recently learned that contact with a fresh plant can cause a rash. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-893/bloodroot

After admiring the Bloodroot, we stumbled upon some large groups of purple and white Sharp-lobed Hepatica (also known as liverwort, kidneywort, and pennywort). These flowers were growing on a hillside in a segregated manner, with two different colors staying to themselves. A little research revealed that the lighter tones are found in the older and more exposed flowers. https://www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org/pages/plants/hepaticasharp.html

We also saw False Rue-anemone growing EVERYWHERE. These tiny white blossoms with their reddish stems bob so merrily in the breeze that it’s tough to get a picture unless you grab one between your fingers or find some growing close to a tree trunk.

But the real prize of the day came when we briefly left the paved maintenance road to take a side trail next to one of the reservoir’s inlets. We knew from previous years that patches of Muscari (commonly known as Grape Hyacinth) grow on the side trail. Terry thought it might be time for these flowers to bloom, and we were thrilled to see that he was right! These flowers are originally planted as bulbs, so somebody must have previously lived in the area where the Muscari grow.

To anyone kind enough to read my posts, please know that you don’t need an expensive camera to take great pictures. I take all my pictures with my iPhone. If you’re willing to bend your body and get down in the dirt, you can take great pictures! The phone does all the work.

We saw more flowers, but they weren’t yet peaking, so I’ll save those for another day. But before ending this post, I’m happy to report that the holiday stump (see Part 2-The Bear Side) was decorated for Easter. I was worried because during a previous hike, the stump was stripped naked, no longer dressed for St. Patrick’s Day. I panicked thinking the decorator had retired and was so relieved during this hike to see the stump sporting a fetching Easter ensemble! Hat tip to the dresser of the holiday stump! Keep up the great work!

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