February 24, 2008

Indian Head Road

Winter's grip is loosening. It's still too icy, and muddy, for a real hike, but today was ideal for a brisk walk down a back road. Like many backroads in Lancaster County, this one has a picturesque name, Indian Head Road. According to local lore, it was named for this rock outcropping, which supposedly had a resemblance to a profile of a Native American, or at least it did before part of it was removed for a driveway.

As is also common with many local roads, it meanders around residences, patches of woodland, and farmland. The snow is melting in this field of corn stubble:
And recent wind storms brought down this limb:
But the real excitement was finding a mullien. I am fascinated with mulliens; they are on my short list of plants I would love to use as the focus of a quilt. They are biennials, meaning their first year of growth they form a rosette of their large, furry leaves near the ground, as they build up a large root underground. The second year, they use the reserves in the root to send up an impressively tall stalk, topped with a cluster of yellow flowers. They produce prodigious amounts of seeds, then die. They have numerous uses in herbal medicine, and were also known as "Indian tobacco" because the leaves were smoked to relieve coughs and congestion. Here you can see the remains of last year's rosette, with the new growth poised to take off in the center. That fat clump of new leaves is a sure sign of spring.
When I returned home I found another sure sign, the first snowdrops blooming under the maple tree. They are a prime example of a lovely but modest flower that would go unnoticed were it to bloom in the profusion of summer, but causes great rejoicing in February.

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