THE SNOW IS still deep. The snow still keeps us from taking familiar and favorite walks through the woods. The snow looks like it may never go away. I’m as ready as anyone for snow and ice to go away, and believe it or not, there are tiny spots where already, there is evidence the sun and calendar will have their way with “Brother Snow” maybe sooner than later.

Last weekend, on a walk with my lovely wife and dogs, we found a place where there were steep banks barren of snow along the north side of a lake and even some bare ground underneath tall Norway pines along the edge of a plowed back road. It may have only been in the 30s, but the sun was shining and hope, as it resided in the hearts of Mudville fans when Casey came to bat, continued to spring eternal in ours.

It’s true. The spring season will come, albeit on its own terms and pace, and when it does, there will be trails to hike in the woods, streams to wade for trout and returning birds of all species to watch. Maybe best of all, I will be free to wander the woods to seek out the earliest of blooming woodland flowers.

Blooming wildflowers, not only in spring, but all summer long, are a joy to behold for anyone. At least they should be. Anyone who can pass by a wetland fringed with blooming blue flag iris without at least saying a couple of oohs and ahs in their mind is a person sorely missing out on some of nature’s finest beauties It goes without saying that this applies to any of the multitude of wild flower species that decorate north Wisconsin from early spring to late fall.

Anyone driving past my house during the growing season can easily see how much blooming flowers mean to me. At last count, my flower beds numbered 12. I keep saying that instead of building yet another small bed when I come home from an area nursery with new plants I should build one giant bed for everything, and maybe one day, that might just happen.

I tend to experiment with lots of different perennials, keeping the ones that do well, consigning others to the edge of the woods along my driveway if I don’t first give them away to other flower-loving neighbors.

Perhaps some of my favorite flowers are the wild ones, especially those I find while rambling through the woods or driving along back roads. Luckily for me, wildflowers present us with a profusion of beauty, some popping through the last skiff of snow to bloom, some waiting ’til near frost to give us a final burst of color.

For years, I was blissfully happy with wandering amongst wildflowers not necessarily knowing what they were, content to simply label them all as “pretty flowers.” Somewhere along the line, I got interested in learning more about them.

As we creep nearer and nearer to spring flower season, I look forward to finding many favorites bursting into bloom. There are places in the woods where I know I will find my favorites. For instance, trilliums, which along with swamp marigolds are my favorite of all wildflowers, draw me every spring to certain places where I know they’ll be blooming.

Near my home, just before reaching a little bluegill pothole lake, there is a stretch of open hardwoods where trillium number in the scores. I’ll maneuver my truck for more than a mile along a two-rut moose track just to walk among those trillium or to sit with my back against a big maple absorbing the wonderful treat that they are.

Trout fishing expeditions in May for me are as much about taking time out to soak up the brilliant masses of yellow that are swamp marigolds in bloom as they are for fishing. For my money, there is no brighter, cheerier flower in the world than these beauties.

Trailing arbutus is another of my favorite early spring flowers, more for its fragrance than its dainty blossoms. This lover of shady, hardwood areas is a wildflower that many people around here don’t even know exists. It seems to require an exact type of habitat to survive and if that habitat is disturbed or changed, it will disappear.

When I was a very young lad, there was a small patch of it just out in the woods near Grandma Maines’ house. A warm early spring day, I would find the patch in bloom and just stretch out on the ground for a good long time doing nothing but soaking up its delicious scent and delicately-colored blossoms. Later, I found patches along Frank Lake and near Plum Creek. Those have disappeared and in recent years, I have been unable to find any others. Sometimes, I think I’d pay a king’s ransom to anyone who could guide me to a new patch.

Another spring and early summer favorite of mine is butter and eggs, a pale yellow flower I had long admired, but had not taken time to learn its identity. Sheila Long taught me that one and, you know, knowing its name does enhance my appreciation for it.

Throughout the growing and blooming season, I grab every chance I can to find and take in the beauty of wildflowers. My bike rides are often interrupted by stops to smell the roses, so to speak. Hikes are slow and meandering as I enjoy a profusion of colors and scents.

Some wildflowers are extremely invasive and I am happy to enjoy beautiful bloomers like fireweed, goldenrod, bird’s foot trefoil and spotted knapweed at a goodly distance away from my flower beds. 

Others, like many of the spring violets, wild strawberries and wood anemones are small and dainty, and a treat for the eyes. Many a summer fishing trip has been brightened by yellow and white water lilies or arrowhead in full bloom. Early autumn walks looking for a partridge are successes, oftentimes, not for any bird I bring home for the Dutch oven, but for the late-blooming fall wildflowers like black-eyed Susans or asters I see along the way.

Now, looking at snowbanks starting to succumb to spring sunshine, I can’t help but feel better that soon, I’ll again be able to enjoy the wildflowers of the north.