This year we saw the first one in early March. Granted, this year was not a normal year, and it was 60 degrees in Minnehaha Park, and people were out in T-shirts. But the ground was still frozen solid under the muck, and nothing except the usual squirrels was stirring. Which is why, when we saw the tip poking out, tightly folded and red (like many newborn things), we let out a hoot that scared the geese all the way to St. Paul. The botany books call it Symplocarpus foetidus; they also inform us that the plant fights its way through frost by producing a substance much like propylene glycol, the main ingredient in antifreeze. It gets a jump on the competition that way, unfurling its unusual-smelling flowers before the rest of the flora emerge. By summer its waxy leaves just about disappear under the foliage of less foolhardy plants. But even then, when the air is thick with charcoal lighter fluid and mosquitoes, we sometimes stop to check that it's still there--because we know that summer always ends, and winter never seems to, and soon we'll be scanning the frozen ground in search of a miracle.


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