VIOLA - There wasn’t a path to follow, but he knew the way to go. Weaving through the woods, stepping over downed trees, and pushing aside dried-out brambles, he picked his way up the steep slope, where the earth was exposed to the sun, to a place sheltered by a rock outcropping.
The day was overcast, the sky the color of pewter, the wind moaning softly. It was a winter-jacket, stocking cap, and pair-of-gloves Wisconsin early April day. Some would call it spring, based on the calendar; others would say it was still winter. But in this nook of the countryside, a tiny, hardy, violet-colored flower had miraculously pushed its way through the cold hard soil to beam its welcome.
Waiting for the pasque flowers to make their appearance on the Thompsons’ farm has been a decades-long tradition for Dane and his brother. Each April, Dane would carry a pasque flower back home to his mom and place it in a miniature vase—an act of love repeated over years of living and farming on their land.
Eleven years ago, Dane began picking two flowers each year, drawing me into this time-honored spring tradition. Two years ago, while Alice, Dane’s mom, was still living in her nursing home bedroom, pasque flowers again sat on her windowsill, leaning toward the sunlight streaming into the room.
This April, later in the month than usual, Dane came over to my house with a brown vial holding two perfect pasque flowers. It always takes me by surprise, both the beauty of the flowers and the gesture.
While I associate pasque flowers with Dane and his mom, whenever I see a crabapple tree I think of my family home. My dad had planted three crabapple trees with dark pink flowers on the corner of our lot, one for each of us kids.
In 2006, when I signed the last paper for purchasing my first and only home here, I too bought and planted a tiny crabapple tree. Like the pasque flowers, it’s blooming late this year, in the middle of May.The once-skinny tree is now taller than I am, when I stand on top of a ladder with my arms stretched skyward. The scent of the flowers is intoxicating, especially combined with the smell of the sweet blossoms on the apple tree next to it. Working at my desk, I can see both trees by glancing out the window over my left shoulder.
Springtime means flowers, budding leaves, rain, mud, and tradition. Gardens are started, hanging baskets of flowers are hung, and eventually the grass is mowed.
The donkeys escape their pasture for their own tradition of exploring why the grass looks greener on the other side. Louisa and the goats graze along the creek, happy to be out of their pen. The ducks and geese can be seen bathing and bobbing their heads up and down to the sound of the crickets and peepers.
This year’s pasque flowers still sit on my windowsill, although the petals have wilted and dropped. On the desk below them is a small vase stuffed with Sweet Williams, another tradition that’s as easy to keep as walking out my door.
As he carried only my featherweight pasque flowers down from the hillside this year, I’ll bet Dane's heart was heavy with thoughts of his mom. It’s one small tradition, but so full of love.While the days grow longer, and the world gets crazier, may we all find solace in the simplicity of springtime traditions.