by Audrey &. Scharmen
She was born on a gray day in midwinter when snowdrops bloomed beneath the bare limbs of the crabapple tree and mute swans came to this tributary of the Chesapeake for the very first time. They appeared at our dock just minutes after, as if to welcome her arrival: A pair with golden bills and glowing pearly plumage right out of a fairy tale. Such swans were uncommon to our area then.
She was special, too. She became my companion on the woodland trails of Southern Maryland at a very early age, and she nurtured my awareness of nature with the sense of wonder only a child has. Well, she was shorter than I: Small people live closer to the earth, seeing subtleties of seasons that tall folk miss. Children amble. One must amble to fully appreciate the natural world.
By the age of four, she was highly opinionated, amazingly verbose, and she had a remarkable memory. Her motto - one she often repeated to me when I walked too fast - was a favorite phrase I taught her from a book by naturalist Hal Borland: "Nature reveals her secrets not to those who hurry by."
Thus it was she who first pointed out to me the flowers of the paw paw trees that I long sought: dark purple blossoms cleverly concealed beneath the leaves of the limbs. It was she who first spotted the elusive wild pink orchid beside a trail at Flag Ponds, and she who noted the cunning mitten-shape of a tulip poplar's yellow autumn leaves.
One late summer day in a boggy place we examined a cardinal flower, an uncommon species with petals so rich a red the entire plant is often stained with it. We spoke of endangered things and how they are threatened by those who must possess them - and consequently destroy them - because they are rare and beautiful. She exclaimed - with the simple common-sense logic of a little woman - that they needn't pick the wildflowers; they could just take them home in their heart and cherish them always, as she would.
When she was five, she loved to drape herself in old silken scarves and dance about the yard in a shower of petals carefully gathered from summer roses past their prime. Her interests were many: She was dancer, botanist, vet, actress, writer, artist and connoisseur of swans by the time she turned six.
I was fortunate to share those years, but such time is quickly spent and she eventually moved away with her parents to another place far from the Chesapeake.
The swans stayed on to establish a dynasty in this small tributary, where they preside as royalty throughout all seasons. And so it was, on a recent midwinter day, they came by to commiserate and remind me that it was her 16th birthday.
She is the same little girl, grown tall now, but examining still with discerning eyes her vast world. She is a scholar and athlete who paints botanicals and loves math; an eager student and a budding scientist.
She is a rare and endangered species, near full fledged.
Scharmen writes from Calvert County, where the recent loss of five young people in automobile accidents has made the community especially aware of the fragility of its most precious rare and endangered species.
| Issue 6 |
Volume VII Number 6
February 11-17, 1999
New Bay Times
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