Trilliums. Not the white ones that pop here and there through the leaf mulch in the forest floor. But the red trilliums. They come later, I thought. I saw them first on facebook, where I seem to see everything first these days. So I’d been watching. They’re hard to spot, closer in colour to the greens and browns of the woods. But that’s not where I saw them. I’d been looking out for the detritus of spring, the overwintered garbage, mulched into the river bank. Sometimes, I carry a plastic bag on my walks, and we shuffle through the underbrush, the dog and I finding spent pop cans, polystyrene food containers, covid masks. And that day, there amongst it all, a clump of red trilliums.
I needed that, the sudden shock of something longed for, manifest. I was so taken by surprise I forgot to extract my phone from my jacket to document them. If I haven’t recorded them, they don’t exist. I went back the next day, and the day after that, but they weren’t there. And then I started to doubt myself. Had I really seen them? Had I conjured them, because I wanted to find something of beauty among the stale winter trash? Did they appear in a dream so real I firmly believed I knew exactly where they could be found?
The early morning is a place of discovery; small signs, and stories lurk everywhere. Mostly, I keep my feet firmly planted, one in front of the other, but sometimes there is the flash of colour at the corner of my eye, or a new sound that brings me abruptly to a halt. Spring in Wakefield: a guitar player practising his riffs, accompanied by a downy wood pecker banging on a metal sign.
I agree with last week’s guest blogger, Michelle Cooper; spring brings out the garbage flingers. Windows rolled down, the warmth inviting arms to trail and drop whatever was clutched in the hand at the moment. I can’t say whether it’s deliberate, or a release; an abandonment of social norms in the heady rush to summer. I don’t condone the garbage flingers, but I find myself wondering what caused them to run away, leaving a half-eaten sandwich or half-drunk bottle of water. I stoop and pick up the litter, and wish I didn’t need to. And while I gather their rubbish, I’m gathering the shed bits of their lives, the things that no longer hold any meaning for them.
There are the flingers and the collectors. And I am definitely a collector. I come by it honestly. My mother was a grade school teacher. Growing up in our house we were not permitted to throw away even the tiniest scrap of paper. Of highest value were the shiny coloured pieces of tin foil wrapped around Easter eggs, or the brightly coloured cellophane encircling the Quality Street candies we’d find in our stockings at Christmas. Not all of these treasures went to her classroom. Sometimes, especially during the holidays we raided her stash. We built castles with cereal boxes, cutting out the turrets with blunt scissors, and making stained glass windows from coloured tissue or cellophane. My imagination fired up, I’d gallop my horse around the table, returning back to the castle after some imagined daring act of bravery. In the distance a flashlight inside the castle lit up the candy-wrapper windows. I’d invent stories to tell, sitting around the hearth in the grand hall with my fellow knights.
The spring after my mother died I was lost. No matter that I was prepared for her death, I felt abandoned, empty and cold inside. I went looking for signs everywhere, so that I could feel her presence. Each piece of garbage I found on my morning walks became something precious. My mind running a constant dialogue invented stories to tell her. “Remember when we made chain belts out of pop-can rings, remember when I tried to file down glass bottles, remember when… “
It fades with time, that feeling. I started noticing small things that didn’t necessarily remind me of her. I heard the birds singing in the trees again, the spring peepers trilling across the river. I woke up to trash being garbage, hastily thrown away with no thought. And to wild flowers carpeting the forest floor.
You know, I never did find the patch of trilliums again, though I looked carefully every day along that section of the river bank. And then one day, I stopped looking; the time for trilliums was past. I had moved on, finding other surprises along the way.