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  • Sharon White

Dogtooth Violet or Trout Lily

Updated: Jan 11, 2020

I waited weeks for the lemon colored dogtooth violet to bloom and then it did. The silky leaves came first, light green and floppy, and then the thin stem perched in the middle of the two large leaves, and then the bud snapped shut like lips. The flower popped from its case—clown-like, the petals furled up in points. Anthers hidden under the heavy weight of silver drops of rain. Now the green wave tulips have opened, the last in a procession of tulips. Green petals rimmed in frilly white—pretty spectacular. And the yellow iris with egg yolk yellow fur. An iris that’s usually stolen each year—too beautiful to resist.

In the newspaper one morning not long ago, there was a picture of a gray wolf, her eyes glowing even in the black and white photo. She’s off the endangered list now in Montana and Idaho—the casualty of some finagling in Congress over something else.  These states can now hold “controlled hunts.”

I just finished teaching What Species of Creatures by Sharon Kirsch in one of my classes. She inhabits the voices of seventeenth and eighteenth century explorers, and priests, and famous people who encountered the curious animals of the new world. By the end of the book these voices are silenced. Man is just part of an ABC of animals. The contact between the human animal and rest of the creatures is almost never a good thing. The fox gives up his life, as does the beaver, and the elk.

My favorite chapter describes Elizabeth Posthuma Simcoe who traveled, in 1791, with her husband, the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, her infant son Francis, and her toddler, Sophia, from England to Quebec. She left four older daughters behind in Devon with their guardian. During their journeys, she reveled in the wildness of the new place, pitching a tent when they stopped. Elizabeth loved the animals of the new world and made drawings of “beautiful “butterflies and snow birds. She sent moccasins home to her older daughters. On a trip from Quebec to Niagara, she “Gave birth to Katherine, a sixth daughter, in a canvas tent.”  The “Canvas House” was a present from her husband who got it from “a sale of the effects of Captain Cook.” Mrs. Simcoe decided she liked eating black squirrel and was charmed by the birds of the new world. She sent May apple seeds to friends in England “the prettiest plant I have ever seen.”

When Katherine died “the sweetest tempered pretty child,” she “did not record Katherine’s death in her diary. Of York she wrote, I found a green Caterpillar with tufts like fur on its back I accidentally touched my face with them & felt like I was stung by a nettle; & the sensation continued painful for some time.” After five years she returned with her husband and two surviving children to England. They sent a birch bark canoe from Canada before they left. When they got home the four girls left behind in England “quickly set it afloat in the River Wolf.”

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