Nothing warms a winter-weary heart more than the first wildflowers of the new year—especially when those blooms are a jolly egg-yolk yellow, as bright and cheerful as a sudden burst of sunshine. Simple magic, perhaps, but I never fail to feel joyfully renewed when I make my first visit of the new year to a favorite patch of winter anconite and find them decorating their corner of the woods—often surrounded by snow.
That's the setting I found this time around when I walked the snow-covered trail back to their half-acre woodland hideout. I don't know their history—who planted them, or when the first handful of tiny bulbs were slipped gently into the rich woodland humus a stone's throw from the river. It must have been a long time ago, perhaps well before the end of the Nineteenth Century. I've known about this particular patch of winter anconites practically all my life.
As a boy, I remember accompanying my father to this stretch of riverine woods when he made his earliest-of-the-season angling forays. It was much too early for dependable fishing, but Dad was tired of sitting at his basement workbench tying bass and panfish flies. Cabin fever could not be curtailed by common sense or the threat of frostbite. It was March by the calendar and any angler worthy of the name knew March was a "fishing" month. Excuse aplenty. The yellow flowers were always out when we made that initial trip.
Generally, winter anconites are not usually thought of as wildflowers. They're not natives, but rather naturalized from Asia Minor and Europe. Unlike, say, lesser celandine—another naturalized small yellow flower that's also a member of the buttercup family, which is practically taking over certain streambanks, to the detriment of native species—winter anconites are still found mostly in home gardens. I suspect the plants in this patch are the progeny of anconites planted by someone who had a home nearby—though I've never found any evidence of a farmstead—neither rotting timbers, rusty well pipe, scattered foundation stones, or even a depression in the leaf litter and briar tangles indicating an old cellar hole.
This morning, the temperature was 16˚F when I fed the birds. It remained below freezing when I decided to take my walk. The ground, in many places, was still covered with snow. No matter. I was being stirred by the same urge that once brought my father out to investigate the seasonal progression. I left my own fly rod in the closet this time around; instead I carried only a camera. But the destination was as familiar as the sound of the cardinals in the thickets, and the purl of water over rocks.
When I rounded the bend I saw, between morning shadows and drifts of snow, patches of leaf-strewn brown earth now spangled with yellow. Ahhh-h! I couldn't help but smile. Somewhere inside a window opened and warm light began to flood my spirit.
Sunshine in the snow. What a gift! Winter anconites, planted long ago, by an unknown gardner, again proclaim the turning season—once more in yellow splendor they lift my heart and whisper their vernal message to my soul.