116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
I was being so cautious about not twisting my knee while I cleared an old tangled log that I didn’t notice a different type of injury I got myself into.
My clothes were covered from hat to boots in sticktights. Oh, a better name would have been “Hikers Bane” or something even more salty. The other regular nickname is “Beggar's lice.” That moniker invokes nausea rather than frustration by the instant and solid grip of the hairy little seed pods.
“Tick Trefoils” has a romance to it, but don’t be fooled. The spring woods may be free of mosquitoes but the overwinter crop of sticktights does its best to fill the biological niche of pain-in-the-neck.
I injured my right knee enough to shut down my normal gallivanting. But moping around the house had run its course. I figured if I walked slowly, deliberately, I would avoid further injury.
Since I was limited to light duty, why not look for early spring edibles. Sure, the morel mushroom gets all the glory but there are plants aplenty if you search wide enough.
My search needed to be small. I spied a small woodlot hidden in plain sight. I figured it was so obvious no one went there.
Ramps were the object of my attention. They are like an onion-garlic cross. Ramps grow in patches with a splash of early greenery in the brown and dormit forest. The leaves are edible but the bulbs are the main prize. Ramps mirror the tenderness of the spring as they mature slowly and are easily over-harvested. It may take six to seven years to mature.
I padded about in the woodlot. I noticed migrant songbirds, a rabbit and several dandy old trees that proved their value to nature, not man. Those trees were full of denning holes. There are much more to trees than board-feet.
Dogtooth violets were just about to flower. Their mottled leaves seemed showy and proud. As proud as a humble ephemeral flower can be. It carries a fitting name despite being a misnomer. Trout lily is truer to its identity, but there’s something mischievous in the name dogtooth violet that accentuates its brief spring appearance.
My search continued across the road. I followed a line of utility flags, omens of a future street. Someday, when we’ve built all the roads we can stand, then we’ll pay double to have roads removed and reclaim the land. Someday.
This parcel was a bounty of reed canary grass, but no ramps. Three mallards buzzed me, a sandpiper foraged nearby. I counted enough maples that a guerrilla sap tapping operation crossed my mind.
Eureka, there, on the hillside was the oddly green patch I was seeking. There was no need to rush. They weren’t going anywhere and I only had one speed: slow.
I reached for some fresh shoots and crushed them between my fingers for the confirming smell, but nothing. Shucks, fooled by a wad of lilies. I pulled for a root, a straight stem came up instead of a cute bulb.
For no good reason I bit into the root, maybe by magic it would transform at that moment and validate my journey. No. Only a siren in green.
The time to head home had come. I didn’t feel defeated though. A sojourn afield yields so much more than a singular pursuit. Bonus prizes abound in the woods.
I texted a distant friend about my afternoon’s effort. He replied his hillside was covered with ramps. I think a road trip is in order.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.
John Lawrence Hanson, Ed.D., of Marion teaches U.S. history with an emphasis on environmental issues at Linn-Mar High School and is past president of the Linn County Conservation Board.