Stop and see the wildflowers

You can walk the same trail at the same time with friends and family and still walk a completely different trail. Everyone brings something different with them. Some people have a nature toolkit in their head that is filled with birdsongs, wildflowers and identification skills. Others bring a head full of music that bee-bops down the trail. Some people bring conflict and sadness to the woods to let nature wash the pain away. Many run through the woods quickly, for exercise, while others move slowly, jumping at the sound of every snapping twig. “Was that a bear? A cougar? Was that dangerous?” they panic.

Some of my earliest memories are of hiking through the woods with my family. We used to camp every summer at Clear Creek State Park in Pennsylvania, where we stayed in a little log cabin. The trails were marked with blue dots that we followed through the trees and bushes. Occasionally, the dots disappeared and we would have to find where the trail went and get moving in the right direction.

My parents went into the forest with very different ideas of what a hike was about. My mom liked to slow down to look at wildflowers or trees or a bird. My dad hiked with a destination mindset. His goal seemed to be to keep moving.

Perhaps because of that, my sisters learned how to identify wildflowers and plants and other things from my mom. I have no memory of ever learning a wildflower from my mom. I didn’t know how much she knew until a walk with my sister years ago.

My sister was walking up the trail identifying trilliums and Jack in the Pulpits and all these wildflowers that we were passing. For me, those names were hard-won knowledge from hours outside with friends and field guides. For her, they were a legacy from my mother and the hikes we took as kids.

Since then, my mom has gone on some wildflower walks with me. She’s lucky to live near Asbury Woods Nature Center in Erie, which has some spectacular wildflowers. Inspired by Audubon’s traditional Mother’s Day Wildflower Walk at Audubon’s Bentley Sanctuary off Fluvanna Avenue, we walked along some of the greenway trail at Asbury Woods to see the wildflowers.

It brought back fond memories of childhood walks, with my father pushing to keep moving as my mom and I stopped to look at huge patches of Marsh Marigold, Wood Anemone and Red Trilliums. My father, who would have been 80 this past week, was a quintessential doer. He was never happy to sit idly by, but would rather build, mow, fix and take care of things. That quality came out in hikes with him, where he wanted to keep moving, rather than stop and stare at the flowers.

My appreciation for wildflowers came with my wife, whose incessant curiosity and questioning forced me to stop and pay closer attention to everything as we hiked. Her idle questions of “Isn’t that one a little bit different?” would soon have us sitting side by side in the spring sunshine, leafing through field guides to see what new flower we had discovered together.

She always hiked the same trail and was thrilled as her experience of the trail changed as we stopped to explore the different wildflowers. We hiked the trail, dubbed “Rachel Lane” by all who knew that my wife hiked there almost every day, last weekend. I do not know if the trail has another name, but we hike it whenever we can. Now, hiking the trail is like greeting old friends.

We passed the spot where we first found a wild Greek Valerian and found the sprouts poking through the leaf litter. We went by another spot that will be covered with fields of trilliums in May but was currently covered in leeks. We wandered to another spot where Hepatica colored the forest floor in patches of purple and white. Hiking through that trail with my wife took me back ten years, when we got to know the wildflowers and each other at the same time.

Jeff Tome is a naturalist at the Audubon Center and Sanctuary, located at 1600 Riverside Rd. near Jamestown, N.Y. He tries to regularly visit Audubon’s Bentley Sanctuary, located on Bentley Road off Fluvanna Ave, for the huge variety of wildflowers found there. More information on Audubon programs can be found at jamestownaudubon.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.