Sandy Griswold. May 5, 1918. [Beloved May Days - A River Road Drive a Charming Adventure]. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 53(31): 12-W. Portions repeated 1 Apr 1923.
Forest Field and Stream
These are the beloved May days, to be sure, but up to date the meteorological conditions have been sadly out of kilter, and we are more apt to liken them to those of early April rather than those of the soft and sussurrating May time. Still these are good days nevertheless and growing better every day, and nothing will be found fully of richer reward than a trip up my favorite old River Road. nature lovers - flower and birds - will find a drive, with its attendant rambles in the woods and fields, an inexpressible charming adventure.
There are but few people, save those proficient in the study of our flora and fauna, who even dream of the manifold joys such a trip would bring to them. Prairie state though Nebraska is, it is one of the most prolific in its floral and faunal attractions of any in the union and no section of the state offers such an invitation to the student as the territory contiguous to the old River Road.
From the ancient Mormon haven, Florence, to the willowed wilds up about Horseshoe lake and the Stillwater this old Indian trail is but a continuous panorama of entrancing pictures, with the silvery sinuosities of the Big Muddy flashing on the one side and the sweet lace work of the wooded bluffs swaying on the other.
When I speak of a drive up this old road I do not mean that you must confine the pleasure of the outing literally to the luxurious cushions of automobile or carriage, but that you must make frequent halts and get out and make little reconnoitering sorties into wood and field and along the water-cressed runs and the bold but budding shores of the river. You will find plenty of keep both mind and heart and vision busy. Just now the summer birds are fast reaching their fullest tide of visitation, cardinal, tanager, chewink, oriole, grosbeak, phoebe, nuthatch, woodpecker, flicker, bluebird and robin and more, too, are here, while, at last, the spring flowers are just opening their many tinted eyes to the outer world - the anemone, windflower and squirrel-cup, the Dutchman's breeches, bluets, marigold, wood and marshland, adder's tongue, crow's-feet, violets and vernal beauties innumberable and unnamable, will in a short time longer fill the atmosphere with their sweet and varied perfumes.
And today, for almost the first time, the gray aisles of the somber woods towering along the bluff's side are redolent with the sweetest perfume of the earliest blooms and walk through the little glades and openings and they are peeping forth coyly almost everywhere - too often escaping even your searching eyes, and yet each affording, if one cares to learn it, some mysterious and wonderful nature story. In two ot three more week all will be out, each vying with the other for the attention of the rambler. Almost everywhere, along these bluffs, the pure black loam, with its vanishing carpet of oak leaves and grasses, furzy tendrils and peeping fronds of fern, will be starred with the pale pinkish blossoms of the Dutchman's breeches, one of the perennial herbs. It has a peculiar double-spurred flower, which looks all the world like a tiny pair of breeches. The stems, with their numerous arms of dangling flowers, stick straight up from the midst of a triangle of lacey, fan-shaped leaves, which spring from out the woody mat nearer the earth and bear a closer relationship to the lesser ferns. The fragrance of the dicentra cuculiaria is faint, but delightful.
A beautiful little aristocrat of these woods, too, but nowhere plentiful, is the columbine. It is to be found in the most uncertain nooks, its jewel-like blossoms, red without and rich gold, within, are in graceful insouciance a dare to the pillager of our spring time flowers. It likes the heights and ledges of the bluffs, and once found, it is hard to forget. A dozen or so of its blossoms are usually found swaying bell-like from the same stalk. The sepals of each flower are as brilliant in color as the petals, the latter being shaped like hollow pockets, which point inward like little red tail. At the end of each of their five pockets is a drop of nectar which brings the fastidious woods bee to worship at its shrine, and it is, perchance, because of its alluring beauty to wild flower lovers that it has chosen the heights and ledges for its home, and it is but seldom seen even along these favored bluffs, But -
And the dainty pink lady's slipper - it may not come for several weeks yet, but it is always to be found among the river road treasures. The Omaha Indians call it the moccasin flower, but it is not the moccasin flower of our prairies. Along early next month its striped, pinkish pouch, swinging balloon-like from the tall stem which is guarded by two broad curving leaves, will be in evidence in the sunny places along the bluffs' sides. It has a charm that never wanes. It always seems touched with the spirit of the deeper woods and its indian name fits it well.
The lady's slipper is one of the most common of the wild orchid flowers of the country. It grows often among the withered leaves of the oak and elm thickets along the Missouri, and where it is found in a very damp soil its color is often apt to appear the most faded. It grows from eight to twelve inches in height and is two-leafed at the base. One of the most interesting things about this delicate little orchid of our early summer woods is that, the botanists will tell you, it owes its power of reproduction wholly to the honey bees. It is said to be impossible of fertilization without the aid of these busy little winged insects. After visiting a flower, the bee always takes away with it a load of the pollen, or fertilizing substance, upon their heads and backs and when they enter the sac of some other flower that is scraped off, and thus the propagation goes on.
The sweet anemone - Ranunculus is the poetic wind-flower, and belongs to the crow-foot family. It is very common in Nebraska woodlands and is one of the dearest of all our early vernal blossoms. It is tender and fragile, and in its little crypts in the woodsy dells and along the fox squirrel paths, catches the motion of every breath of air of wind, however soft, and from this fact comes it pretty name, anemone, or wind-flower. The fronds of the anemone are early to burst, and while each little stem bears but a single flower, it is prolific in roots, and all about peep fragile sentinels with their lily-like cups, all radiating from one parent stalk. There is also a lesser anemone indigenous with us, but not so general as the genus just spoken of. It has several flowers to a stem, and is called the anemonelia. It is found quite plentiful in the thick woods down round about the old Parkins sand pits on the Missouri.
Among the other blossoms the winds and sunshine of March and the tears and cajolery of April, bring to the river road woods are the blood root, which while short lived, is sweet and beautiful. Its tender flowers emerging from a fold of leaves, closing in the moist hours of eventide and morning, and opening fully only in the fullest glare of day. On the borders of the woods, are to be found the bluet and the trilliums, where the sun has full sway for hours along the middle of the day, but where the barrier of the trees keeps off the rude winds and boisterous storms.
Further down, along the greening pasture streams and sluices and swails the yellow adder's tongue, in all its wild gracefulness and beauty, blows and glows soulfully. Here, too, is found the marsh marigold in broad plats, yet less delicate and finished, save in dazzling hue, than its woodland kinsfolk; and still further out, where the cattle tramp and browse, are the foxgloves, digitalis purpurea, defiantly uplifting their lovely heads.
But I will have more to say another week about the wild flowers of the old river road, for I intend to spend a day up there before another Sunday rolls round, and I know I will find lots of things, in this way, that will make interesting reading for the lovers of the outdoor world.