Sunday, May 18, 2008

True sign of spring

Some think it's the first robin, others think it's the first daffodil blooming. For me, the first real signs of spring are plum blossoms. Robins and daffodils give a false sense of security in Minnesota, where snow storms are common in April and not unheard of in May. When the plum trees start to blossom, you know you can finally put away your hat and mittens. For five months, at least.

For those of you still living in suburbia, or urbia for that matter, wild plums are something very special. Prunus Americanus, wild plums grow along lakeshores and creek beds in almost every state in the US. Their blossoms are heaven scent, their fruit truly divine. These aren't the plums you find in the supermarket; in fact, the only way to taste a wild plum is to actually go out and find one in the wild. In Minnesota, the best times for looking are in August, but ripening times vary with weather and location.

One day last summer I was working at another state park on a very sunny, hot August afternoon. I was carrying some heavy equipment, had just walked about three miles through rough terrain, and was still a half mile from the shop where coolness and water bottles were waiting. I stopped briefly for a rest next to a couple of rough, bedraggled looking trees, feeling mightily bedraggled myself. Parched and sweating, I look around and a small flash of pink catches my eye. A closer look, and I see more small dots of pink scattered through the branches. No! Yes! Plums! I gently pull one from the tree, slowly sink my teeth into the skin, and close my eyes in pure bliss as I taste the sweet juicy fruit.

Ten minutes and about thirty plums later I walk on, happy and grateful for nature's snackbar.

I tell you, if you have never tasted wild plums at the peak of ripeness, you are truly missing out. Today is a gorgeous day - go out right now and take a walk, or go for a drive along a rural road. Find a dirt road with a few bends or hills in it, which may indicate a winding creek or stream. Look on a south-facing slope for a bunch of scraggly trees bearing tons of off-white blossoms. Stake out the location, and make a point to come back in early August. You won't be disappointed.

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