One of the difficult decisions those of us who love both nature and exercise must make each spring day is whether to use the early morning hours to wander in the woods and fields or to run and ride and get ahead in spring fitness so that the bloom of summer does not hurt so much.
The blood coursing through our veins seems to pull us toward both pursuits. On one hand there is the brilliant spring sunshine falling on wildflower petals that we know will last just a few days. One of those delicate yet tough spring species is a flower known as bloodroot. It springs forth from wet soil in April with petals so white and pure you eyes feel arrested by the sight.
Pedaling through a section of the Virgil Gilman Trail between Aurora and Sugar Grove I spotted a patch of bloodroot blooming under the still bare trees. At first I zoomed past. Then wanting to take a closer look and not really under any pressure to go fast or get home anytime soon, I pedaled slowly back to find the plant again.
People walking and running on the trail looked suspiciously at me pedaling slowly with my face turned toward the ground. No one trusts a creep on the trail, especially women alone. But I smiled and told them “I’m looking for a wildflower I just saw.”
And there it was. So I bent over to take an iPhoto image of the bloodroot plant with its veined and palm-like leaves. Within a couple days the white petals would be gone, I knew. Usually they fall during a persistent spring rain. If you come upon bloodroot a day after that rain the petals lay bent and decaying on the dark spring soil.
During their bloom those bright petals and the yellow face in the middle attract insects that pollinate the flower and benefit from nectar in the process. It is a miraculous, subtle journey that lasts mere hours against an eternity of evolutionary forces that created it.
If by chance one encounters a bloodroot that has been trampled or broken by foot, and that is a shame, the name of the plant does become evident. The plant bleeds red from the stem. Hence its name.
One supposes a devout Christian could make much of the seasonal triumph and fall of such a plant. It’s Christlike purity and blood-red sacrifice is definitely a potent symbol for renewal. One wonders why nature creates such ephemeral things as bloodroot, which lurk below cold soil all winter waiting for a spate of 50-degree days. That’s all it takes, to push forth into green leaf and pure white blossom. It’s all so humble. Yet so profound.
And that’s nature. It doesn’t shirk and it doesn’t coddle. Beauty and death and renewal go hand and hand. And hand.
Later, as I pedaled home and came to a country intersection, I waited at the stop sign for a car approaching from the right before clipping back in to ride. The vehicle was forty yards down the road, a big silver Mercury Grand Marquis. The car’s turn signal was not on. Yet the vehicle began to make a deep left cutting across the right side of the intersection where I stood with my bike. The driver’s side bumper was headed straight for my front before I jerked the bike back in surprise.
The driver had not noticed me despite the fact that I stood there in full daylight minding my own business. He was elderly, grant you, and he was driving that big car on a Sunday morning from who-knows-where to who-knows-where with who-knows-what on his mind, or not.
I swore loudly at him because of the shock of almost being struck. He came to a stop thirty yards down the road and apparently looked in the rear view mirror. Then he drove away. Obviously he had not been paying full attention to his driving. But had I thought to clip in and begin riding as he made the turn things might have turned out completely awful and quite different.
The incident did not go unobserved. A woman whose house sits across the road shouted out over to me. “Did he hit you?”
“No, thank God,” I said, and apologized for the dual profanities I’d just uttered that included a terse “WTF” and an ironic “Holy S***.” Then I checked for traffic again, clipped in and rode toward home quite thankful the outcome had not been much worse.
You can never be too thankful for bad things that don’t happen. I know all too well, having last summer caused myself a spate of lasting pain and suffering by inattentively crashing into a downed tree. It’s also the same trail where two summers ago my companion Sue went down in a bike crash and tore her rotator cuff. That incident was caused by wet vegetation on the trail and she won’t ride there anymore. Not to blame either. It is all too clear that as cyclists and runners we’re just as ephemeral as a spring wildflower in bloom.
As for me, I’ll be walking the woods today to visit my wildflower friends despite forecasts of rain and cool spring weather. There will be Dutchman’s Breeches, trillium and trout lily in bloom. There will be hepatica and twinleaf and wildly-planted daffodils in places where people saw fit to place them.
There will be raindrops on green leaves as patient as if the entire world depended on their existence. And it does. Because that’s how nature and that thing we call God really works.