Wildflower Week: Trout Lily

Trout Lilies
by Mary Oliver

It happened I couldn’t find in all my books
more than a picture and a few words concerning
the trout lily,

so I shut my eyes,
And let the darkness come in
and roll me back.
The old creek

began to sing in my ears
as it rolled along, like the hair of spring,
and the young girl I used to be
heard it also,

as she came swinging into the woods,
truant from everything as usual
except the clear globe of the day, and its
beautiful details.

Then she stopped,
where the first trout lilies of the year
had sprung from the ground
with their spotted bodies
and their six-antlered bright faces,
and their many red tongues.

If she spoke to them, I don’t remember what she said,
and if they kindly answered, it’s a gift that can’t be broken
by giving it away.
All I know is, there was a light that lingered, for hours,
under her eyelids – that made a difference
when she went back to a difficult house, at the end of the day.

• • •

Photo ©2013, Jen Payne

8 thoughts on “Wildflower Week: Trout Lily

Add yours

  1. Lovely… I need to get out there more and see what’s going outside, instead of sitting in here on my keyboard all day long. BTW, do you know “toad lilies”…? They show up in the Fall, and look like tiny orchids, many on each stem.

    Our peonies, which are the glory of our front yard, are already at least six inches high. Eager to see them…


    1. All the wonders of the garden – nature’s and our own! I have a new perennial garden in the front patch, just planted in October. Can’t wait to see what unfolds – and how my (older) peonies adjust to their new neighbors!

  2. Hi Jen,
    A friend passed your trout lily photo and poem to me. I’ve been conducting a study of the trout lily (Canon T3i), which this week in Southern Ontario is about 3 to 4 inches above ground, just a single spotted leaf that unfurls from a reddish-brown leaf back pointing out of the soil in the woodlands. We’ve had such a long winter so seeing the lilies is a treat.

    My sister is a botanical artist and we are keeping tabs of the little trout lily’s development. She is going to make the early harbinger of spring her next painting.

    I’m a writer too. I was moved by your writing about your memories as a little girl in the poem (you of course as a child). And it’s nice to see the little girl still has an appreciation for the gifts from Mother Nature.

    1. Hi Mary.

      Oh dear! I can’t at all take credit for the trout lily poem – those would be the wonderful words of poet Mary Oliver! If you have not had a chance to read her work yet, please do…it’s quite moving.

      The photo is mine – I feel like a bit of a wildflower sleuth, hunting them down and researching them for more information. How goes your study?

      A fellow blog writer and reader of mine mentioned last year that the trout lily must get its name from the trout color of the leaves – do yo know if that’s true?

      – Jem

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