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Mixed woods in Montpelier, Vermont


After the Red and Before the Green of Northern Forests

May 12, 2019  |  by Bryan Pfeiffer  |  14 comments  | 

The reluctant arrival of spring across northern forests this year — more gradual than most any I can remember — brings us to peak yellow. Sugar maple and ash, poplar and birch, now make the hillsides glow by the yellow light of promise: millions of tree flowers and fresh leaves.

Yellow Warbler

This is not to say that the crimson from our Red Alert has vanished. You will still find it on Red and Silver maples now maturing with their cherry samaras. You’ll find new red at your feet in the fresh shoots of Japanese Knotweed rising from the dirt like zombies from the grave. And you’ll discover it in the pin-stripes of male Yellow Warblers — perhaps our best mascot for this micro-season of spring, this stop in the progression from red to yellow to green.

Morning sunshine snuck into Montpelier beneath a layer of clouds on Sunday. It turned my routine 4.5-mile walk into a discovery of vibrant yellows and yellow-greens: Sugar Maples in full bloom, Yellow Birch catkins in full droop, Quaking Aspen’s fresh buttery leaves, and the bouquets on our White Ashes.

With cool weather and a bit of rain in the forecast here during this slow and wonderful onset of spring, the New England woods will continue to glow yellow for the next several days — much as they do in autumn.

Here below are a only a few more examples of what’s happening in this progression from the gray of winter to sparks of red and then to the yellow glow and finally to climax green. It happens even subtly — as in that first pair of images: a Box Elder starting to flower on 28 Apr and then the very same tree on Sunday, with its long dangling styles and fresh leaves bringing even more yellow-green to the landscape. And for the most shocking views of Sugar Maple flowers, see the end of my Red Alert post.

Onward, to the green, slowly, which is fine by me. As I wrote the other day, we’ve got warblers to see among all those flowers and new leaves.

Postscript: Upon publication of this post, Vermont author Tom Slayton directed me to the poem Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost. Thanks, Tom!

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

  1. Sally P Cargill says:

    Frost is not the only poet in this blog. As always the photos are delightful and the poetic prose so informative. “… now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened”

  2. Hildy Jones says:

    Hello Bryan,
    As always, as with all the other comments, thank you for the beautiful way you express and take pictures of all things nature has to offer….also wanted to let you know that I have had several White Throated Sparrow at the feeder. Their white stripes and yellow by the beak are a treat too. Bluebirds are nesting again too.
    And, I work up to 3 1/2 inches of snow…I am soooo ready for spring!

  3. Bit of yellow on my five mile walk about Jericho. (See blog posting) Most of the leaves are coming out green with apprehension, the yellow flowers have ear muffs on, the peepers are chillin as much as peeping, the pussy willows are thankful for the queen honeybees to help keep them warm. And I in my cap hurry home and settle my brain down for a long SPRING nap – hoping that when I awake, mud galoshes will no longer be needed in the backyard, and the wildflowers will not have drowned, and the thermometer will no longer profess a false spring.

  4. Kerstin Lange says:

    Love this! And the red alert, too, and everything else you write!
    And that Robert Frost poem is the dot on the i.

  5. Laura F says:

    Agree! So nice to see olive-colored warblers I usually can only hear up on the Aspens. I think we are learning to love spring again.

  6. Evergreen Erb says:

    I agree heartily with Veer. I love this time of year, and love that this year we aren’t going from winter to heat and humidity in the blink of an eye. It’s been great being able to see the warblers too!

  7. Veer Frost says:

    I really love this slowness out of the harsh winter just past! In the last decade it has seemed the climate emergency was forcing the too soon over springtime, or that is just a worried mind at work, perhaps. The emergency gathers pace so this ‘normal’ unfolding is a balm, as well as a beautiful ritual. Thank you for helping us stay attuned to such patterns, Bryan.

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