The first wild-flower of the spring is like land after sea. The two which, throughout the Northern Atlantic
States, divide this interest are the Epigoea repens
(May-flower, ground-laurel, or trailing-arbutus) and the Hepatica triloba
(liverleaf, liverwort, or blue anemone). Of these two, the latter is perhaps more immediately exciting on first discovery, because it is an annual, not a perennial, and so does not, like the epigaea, exhibit its buds all winter, but opens its blue eyes almost as soon as it emerges from the ground.
Without the rich and delicious odor of its compeer, it has an inexpressibly fresh and earthy scent, that seems to bring all the promise of the blessed season with it; indeed, that clod of fresh turf with the inhalation of which Lord Bacon delighted to begin the day must undoubtedly have been full of the roots of our little hepatica.
Its healthy sweetness belongs to the opening year, like Chaucer
's poetry; and one thinks that anything more potent and voluptuous would be less enchanting—until one turns to the May-flower.
Then comes a richer fascination for the senses.
To pick the May-flower is like following in the footsteps of some spendthrift army which has scattered the contents of its treasure-chest among beds of scented moss.
The fingers sink in the soft, moist verdure, and make at each instant some superb discovery unawares; again and again, straying carelessly, they clutch some new treasure; and, indeed, the plants are linked together in bright necklaces by secret threads beneath the surface, and where you grasp at one, you hold many.
The hands go wandering over the moss as over the keys of a piano, and bring forth odors for melodies.
The lovely creatures twine and nestle and lay their glowing faces to the very earth beneath withered leaves, and what seemed mere barrenness becomes fresh and fragrant beauty.
So great is the charm of the pursuit, that the epigaea is really the wild-flower for which our country-people have a hearty passion.
Every village child knows its best haunts, and watches for it eagerly in the spring; boys wreathe their hats with it, girls twine it in their hair, and the cottage-windows are filled with its beauty.
In collecting these early flowers, one finds or fancies singular natural affinities.
I flatter myself with being able always to discover hepatica, if there is any within reach, for I was brought up with it (‘Cockatoo he know me very well’); but other persons, who were brought up with May-flower, and remember searching for it with their childish fingers, can find that better.
The most remarkable instance of these natural affinities was in the case of L. T. and his double anemones.
L. had always a gift for wild-flowers, and used often to bring to Cambridge
the largest white anemones that were ever seen, from a certain special hill in Watertown
; they were not only magnificent in size and whiteness, but had that exquisite blue on the outside of the petals, as if the sky had bent down in ecstasy at last over its darlings, and left visible kisses there.
But even this success was not enough, and one day he came with something yet choicer.