By Brenda Olmsted
Over thirty years ago, I received my first trillium for Mother’s Day. We moved into our house outside of Bigfork the winter of 1983. The yard was, as yet, undeveloped and the surrounding woods and overgrown natural vegetation was buried under deep snow.
As soon as the snow had melted enough for us to walk through the tangle of undergrowth, I took my daughter and son out to explore our new home. We climbed over downed lodge pole and birch trees, skirted prickly woods’ rose shrubs and stomped through barely-visible wild strawberry plants until we were ready to return inside. Several weeks passed and we ventured out as often as the weather would permit.
One day my daughter found a white flower under a fallen tree. The delicate petals caught her attention in the dark undergrowth where so little sun penetrated the canopy of tall pines. She picked the flower and carried it into the house where we placed it in a glass of water. It sat on the window sill above the kitchen sink for days, slowly dying. Later, I searched books with the flower in hand and discovered its name: trillium grandiflorum, white trillium.
The following year, when the sun penetrated the trees and warmed the ground, the trilliums emerged and we again placed several in a glass of water on the windowsill. That Mother’s Day, after returning home from church, my two oldest children disappeared outside with their baby sister toddling behind them. Within a few minutes they returned, each holding a trillium in their little hand. “Happy Mother’s Day,” they chimed together.
A tradition was born. From then on, every Mother’s Day, there was a race to see who could find the first flower. In those early years, there was always a glass or two full of trilliums sitting on the window sill each spring, some bright and cheerful, some already withered. As the years passed, we learned more of their true nature. These spring flowers, too delicate for the summer heat, grew in the rich loam of the forest where a shaft of sunlight penetrated to warm their roots. We learned to pick only the flower, leaving the leaves intact on the plant so more would grow the following year. Even so, as the children grew and our yard became more cultivated, the fewer and fewer we saw of the trilliums. Still, I received a trillium every year on Mother’s Day.
Then, we moved into Kalispell, Montana where there are no trilliums poking out in a patch of sun. For several years the tradition was lost, until one Mother’s Day, my daughter gave me a flat box wrapped in white and green tissue paper. When I opened it, there was a watercolor of trilliums, which she had painted during her first watercolor class.
The picture hangs in a place of honor in our living room; a reminder of those races, little hands holding trilliums and a chorus, “Happy Mother’s Day.”
She never said the morning was old,
or that the sunrise went unseen.
What she said was, the way the stars shone
reminded her that the sky was an object
of intense beauty—burning away the dew,
and the reason she enjoyed the sunset
was for the splendor of the dross.
She never said the morning was old.
What she said was, to milk the sky of all it has to say
would be impossible, but the stories it could tell!
Dropping hints with shooting stars, aurora borealis
and the moon’s globe always half hidden,
reflecting earth’s star—the great shine,
sending rays of hope, and to discover for what
purpose the planets are aligned.
She never said the morning was old.
What she said was, the earth has its own secrets:
the sight of green across a rain-soaked field,
overripe fruit dropping to the garden floor,
the quickening of a hummingbird’s wings,
magnetic forces underfoot and those places
where laughter can be heard; and still, none so beautiful
as a child’s hand reaching upward.
Brenda Olmsted grew up surrounded by dinosaur bones in the Badlands of Eastern Montana. She skipped rocks, searched for fishing lures and slept by campfires along the Yellowstone River where fishing for paddlefish is a seasonal sport. She moved to Bigfork, Montana in 1978, where she raised her family before turning her attention to writing. Sometimes she calls herself a poet. She enjoys reading, spending time with her family and traveling the roads throughout Montana with her amateur-photographer husband, Don.