Go to the Swamp

“If you are afflicted with melancholy at this season, go to the swamp and see the brave spears of skunk cabbage buds already advanced toward a New Year.”
– Henry David Thoreau, 1857

I walk to the swampy margin of a nearby stream every March. It’s still cold. Still brown and gray. But I know that I will find there the first blooms of the year. Tucked inside a cloak of mottled maroon and green the tiny yellow-green flowers hide. The first waking insects will find them on warmer days than this; they, too, heartened by the promise of a new season.

26 Comments on “Go to the Swamp

  1. Marvelous, Jean. Skunk cabbage unfurling, peepers chorusing and redwing blackbirds churring down by the creek have lifted this long winter’s gloom for me.

    • Yes…all those things are so welcome, aren’t they? I haven’t heard many peepers yet, but I think it’s just too cold. We do have woodcocks whirring and calling in the field thought, so I’ll take it!

  2. Isn’t this time of year simply rejuvenating?! I can’t get enough discovering new growth each day.

    Your lettering is exquisite. I just adore your work. It’s so beautiful and full of joy. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you Torina. Yes! I love springtime…though it always has a slow start followed by an explosion here. We’re not at the rejuvenating stage yet…but soon!

  3. Great sketchbook post giving reach to look more closely for signs of spring. I’ve never looked for skunk cabbage. A large portion of your yard is wooded. Might I find it there?
    I’m curious about the sketchbook you used. Looks like it opens flat…nice! Perhaps you have discussed this in another post, at another time but it really caught my eye today. Is it watercolor paper or just heavy enough to hold the wet washes?

    • Hi Bernadette– You need to look in swampy, shaded places. Much of our woods are “bottomland” hardwoods along a stream. As for the sketchbook–it’s a Handbook Watercolor Journal (gray cover, 140lb paper). I am just trying it out and I have to say, it’s pretty great. I am still working out what pens work best on it, but it takes watercolor very well. I’ll write more about it Tips & Techniques once I’ve done a few more pages. I used it for the cherry blossoms, too.

  4. Your paintings are like visual poetry, such a treat for the eyes and soul!

    • Thoreau was a lover of wetlands, so I knew to go looking for what he had to say. Nearly ran out of room! But I like to combine a bit of poetry or a quote to capture the mood of the piece.

  5. Here on the west coast our skunk cabbages are up as well, but they are bright yellow and green. So interesting to realize there are such wonderful colour variations.

    • I’ve seen photos but never seen them in person. The eastern ones come in a great assortment of mottled green and maroon, but an occasional bright red one also occurs. I think they are quite fascinating.

      • I just read a Mary Oliver poem about skunk cabbage, and in googling came upon your art/blog. Such beautiful paintings! And quotes.

      • Thanks for reaching out. Glad you enjoyed the site. You can sign up on the site to receive an email of new postings (typically once a week), if you like.

  6. Excellent! Like you, I’m anxiously awaiting the first firsts! I love your skunk cabbage and how you depicted them bravely pushing through winter into spring. I’ve also been doing the same, but we’ve been lucky to have some spring warmth and loads of New Mexico sun to encourage the first of the wild rhubarb. They’re there! Ahhh …. Spring at last!
    Always tremendously inspiring work Jean! Thanks!

  7. I’ve been waiting to see it again this year…it should be up – I need to get out to my favorite swampy woods! Those colors and shapes are ‘so Chihuly’!! 😀

  8. This post made me want to go in search of them. It’s still very cold yet here. But our rivers have thawed and are swollen making a perfect environment for skunk cabbage in the low areas. They are oddly beautiful and you’ve captured their essence. Thank you for this first glance at spring.

    • You’re welcome. They have been poking up here for a least a month, so I bet you’ll find them. It almost helps to go when the ground is still a bit frozen. Less muddy. Enjoy your foray!

  9. Pingback: March 20221 Wrap Up – Chasing the Four Winds

  10. I have encountered references to skunk cabbage in two literary works recently: ” Miracles at Maple Hill” by Virginia Sorensen and “The Countryman’s Year” by David Grayson. I’m a bit embarrassed to say I had never heard of them, and was curious to know what they look like. You’ve illustrated them beautifully here, so thanks for putting me in the “know”! All of your posts are delightful, instructional, and inspiring.

    • So glad to solve the mystery Susan. They are an unusual plant, and unless you are out along damp stream sides or wet woods in spring, you would not see them. Once they fully leaf out, you might recognize the large green leaves in wet woods during the summer. Thanks for letting me know of your discovery.

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