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Coffin: Cowslips in April

04/19/12 5:55PM By Howard Coffin
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(Host) Commentator Howard Coffin is an author and historian whose specialty is the Civil War. Apparently, he's also fond of some of the first greens of the season.

(Coffin) The other day, my next door neighbor and dear friend Joe Fermiglietti, who had been a friend and help to many people, passed away. I was thinking of Joe when I went out to gather greens - and later wrote:

Hurry! hasten now to the out-of-doors. For a few brief days the cowslips are up and not yet blossomed. Pick them before they flower and turn bitter, for cowslip greens are the best of spring dishes.

Watch roadside swamps in mid-spring, and golden cowslip flowers are everywhere. That’s how to find them for next year. For the past three weeks I’ve been watching a cedar-lined swamp in Berlin that I spotted a year back. And now they’re up, emerging from the ooze.

Rinse, then steam or boil them. Serve with butter, salt, and pepper. Delicious.

Soon will come the dandelions, perhaps best tasted with vinegar. Later, milkweeds.

But first, the cowslips. Picking them, in my rubber boots, each step a tug from the muck, is one of my favorite things to do. Why? Because they taste so good, and, when they appear, all the best is ahead.

On with the greening spring, then a Vermont summer, always unbelievably lush and absurdly short. Then into fall - and, what? Tunbridge Fair. I will watch the old rite of the horse and ox pulls, then to the beer hall’s raucus joy, celebrating with old friends at harvest.

But no, this is spring. Keep your thoughts here, now. Heed Robert Frost.

Oh give us the pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

But as I slog from cowslip clump to cowslip clump, a chill breeze cuts through the slanting sunlight. Suddenly I am thinking all the way to fall, and beyond. Please, may this autumn be better than the last.

And then I think of that barren time when all the leaves have gone, the time of Frost’s “...bare November days before the coming of the snow.”

Here among the cedars I recall my love for that day of first snow: light flakes drifting down through gray leafless limbs. I remember back a half century and more, coming home from some exploration along the ridges, passing down through the old pasture’s deepening cold and dusk, and seeing the warm and loving lights of home.

On that single, softly powerful day of first flakes, the world seems to say, like the old hymn, “Come home, come home. All who are weary, come home.”

On an April cowslip day, all of this lies just ahead.
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