I love tripping over surprises on my morning rambles. This one brought me to a full stop. A cactus? A blooming cactus? Here?
Prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) is the only cactus that grows in my region, and I wasn’t sure where to look for it. I didn’t see it in the pine forest preserve, or the bog reserve. I found it growing next to the parking lot of a boat launch, along with three other flowering plants I didn’t recognize. Go figure.
Those petals glowed in the morning sun like creamy butter, such a contrast to the fiercely poky pads, looking so verdant for a plant that conjures parched, dusty desert. Have you seen anything unexpected in your backyard? I bet it’s full of surprises.
Today is the first day of summer.
Six months ago we said hello to winter. Within a week, snow buried us snug in our burrows while we waited out the next four three-foot snowfalls.
Three months ago, I tripped over gangly sticks and naked brush, examining just-sprouted leaves and stabbing at identities for newly born things. And spring scurried, pell-mell through her to-do list, opening and closing blooms, shaking out everyone’s summer foliage and featherage, waking the last sleepers. From one week to the next, no place has been the same two visits in a row.
Berries are now swelling on their twigs where I first saw the tight-wrapped buds. Fledgling birds’ new flight abilities have freed their parents from the tyranny of the nest, only weeks after I first heard their courting songs in the cold woods of March. I can’t pass between the bushes anymore; they’ve staked their claims with green flags fluttering. Now we all slow to the speed of abundance, of gestation. The trees and bushes quietly grow their fruits while feasting on the free sun, the heat-unlocked goodness in the soil. The rest of us — animal, insect, et cetera — enjoy the vegetable feast.
It’s been a few years since I first set my alarm for dawn — with the intention of rising to welcome the season, to properly appreciate the opening and closing of the longest day — only to roll over and sleep instead, at least another two hours. I think this has happened more than once over the past five summers, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from myself when I fell asleep last night.
But when my alarm buzzed at 4 a.m. this morning, my first thought was, “Man, this is gonna be cool.”
And it was.
Good morning, summer.