Trout lilies on the trail


I'm standing in the sun, warm in a T-shirt for the first time in months, and I've hit it exactly right.

The trout lilies are in bloom.

They bloom up here in the hundreds and thousands, yellow flowers with slender petals and mottled leaves. But they're here only for a short time each year. They bloom before the trees open their leaves -- when sunlight touches ground between the trees. I haven't gotten the timing right in years.

Four years ago, friends led me to them by accident. We came up to the Taconic Crest Trail -- from the trail head on Route 2 at the New York border -- looking for geocaches. Walking gently and stopping to search for hidden capsules, or to check out college weather experiments, or to have lunch, we covered a few miles just staring at the carpet of yellow flowers and the pink and white Spring Beauties.

Today, I'm moving. It's the first warm day since September, and it's good to stretch my legs and to plough uphill until I have to stop for breath.

I'm not alone. A garter snake slides off the path at the edge of an open space of grass and wolf trees that looks like old pasture land. Wolf trees are what my parents call large, wide trees that have grown in an open space and had room to spread out.

Hikers pass me on their way south, and a woman with a day pack passes me heading north (and four or five illegal motorized bikes grind by while I stand at the overlook just past the New York State line.)

Here, the brush thins and I can look out westward across the valley. Behind me, young beech trees are putting out long amber buds a few feet over my head.

I begin to wish I knew more about budding trees. I can tell a pussy willow, a maple key and maybe a -- I was going to say a birch catkin, but I realize I don't wholly know what a catkin is. (Looking it up later, I learn: A catkin is a long, slim cluster of flowers, often pollinated by wind. A pussy willow bloom is a catkin. Birch trees have them, and hickory, hazel, oak, alder, mulberry. Now I want to know how to tell one from another.)

The beech buds are still tightly closed, no sign yet of the amber-green fringes they will open as the leaves unfold.

And here, before I expect it, is the sign for the snow hole. For the first time, I've come far enough to see it. I can stand in the hollow in the rock and pick my way across the mat of snow still caught here. On a day like this, with the sweat cooling on the back of my neck, a touch of snow feels good, too. Into the woods ...

What: Taconic Crest Trail end-to-end challenge with Taconic Hiking Club

When: Saturday, May 17. Hike begins 5:30 a.m., with 5 a.m. breakfast

Where: Begins in Pittsfield State Forest



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