Friday, May 8, 2015 23 comments

The melodic beauty of my Appalachian spring

Solomon's Seal is a native that blooms in April and May

The ballet score Appalachian Spring won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1945, and remains one of the most inspiring works in American history.

But composer Aaron Copeland didn’t have mountains or forests in mind when he started working on the orchestral suite in 1942.

He initially called the score “Ballet for Martha” for the ballet’s choreographer and lead dancer, Martha Graham.

Graham suggested the name the day before the ballet premiered.

Copeland once said “I gave voice to that region without knowing I was giving voice to it.”

Shooting Stars are spring superstars
And he was often told he’d brilliantly captured the beauty of the Appalachians in his music.

As far as I'm concerned, it really doesn’t matter that this region wasn’t the original inspiration for his masterpiece. 

Every time I hear Appalachian Spring I can't help but envision the beauty of the mountains.

Especially this time of year.

 Diverse and dramatic

The mountains that surround me make up one of the most biologically diverse areas of the world with more than 1,600 flowering plants.

Here, visions of violets signal spring is on the way. The Halberd-leaf Yellow Violet is usually the first flower I see. 

Halberd-leaf Violet
Its name comes from an observation that the arrowhead leaves are reminiscent of a battle-ax type weapon used in the 15th and 16th centuries. I’ll have to take the historians at their word.

The humble violet has been celebrated in myths and literature from ancient times, a symbol of modesty and simplicity. Longfellow wrote that it “lurks among all the lovely children of the shade.”

Shakespeare described the violet as “forward” as it trumpets the awakening of the earth following winter. He also writes the violet is “sweet, not lasting. The perfume and suppliance of a minute; No more.”

So we should gather our Halberd-leaf Yellow violets while we may. 

Confederate Violet
Along with the other violets that grow along my trail, including the Confederate, Common Blue, Pale and several other varieties.

 Trillium heaven

A couple of years ago, according to folks in the know, a very warm winter caused many wildflowers to go into a tizzy.

Apparently a number of species flowered up to three weeks early and because of the warmth, the bloom period was very short. Trilliums also appeared early and were quickly devoured by hungry deer.

Catesby's Trillium (maybe)
At that time I was new to the mountains, so I didn’t know what I was missing. 

This spring has been an entirely different story.

 Trilliums are members of the Lily family and are among the showiest of springtime wildflowers. The local natives sport three distinctive leaves and when they bloom, the flowers have three petals.

Stinking Benjamin
American Indians used the plant as an eye medication and women boiled the roots to make a love potion. Mountain folk say if you pick a trillium you will bring on a rainstorm.

Wake Robin, a favorite that I did see last year, is back with its deep burgundy blooms. Apparently that is the “nice” name because I’ve learned it is also known as Stinking Benjamin or Stinking Willie because of the putrid smelling flower. Early herbalists used it to treat gangrene.

A number of Painted Trilliums are growing down by the path. It was a happy surprise because I didn’t see many in the past. I’m delighted to have them because experts say they have been virtually bulldozed or picked into extinction.
Painted Trillium

The white and pink trilliums nearby are beautiful, too. But I’ve become partial to the Painteds.

Every time I see one, I hear music.