What You Can See on March 4

From Audubon’s Earth Almanac by Ted Williams and compiled in “Wild Moments,” edited by Connie Isbell, Illustrations by John Burgoyne, Storey Publishing, 174 pages. Dance of the Fiddleheads As snow and shadows shrink on forest and meadow, ferns pop through the wet earth. You’ve seen these “fiddleheads” dancing back and forth as they unfurl in slow-motion nature films. But if you look at a plant each day at the same hour and make a crude sketch on paper or in your mind, you can see the unfurling in real time. The speed will astonish you. In diverse array over most of the globe, ferns—some of them 50 feet high—helped build earth’s oxygen-rich atmosphere ages before the first flowering plants existed. For centuries it was supposed that ferns were flowering plants, but that they bloomed so rarely no one saw the blossoms. Long, futile vigils were kept, and it became widely believed that if the seeds were collected at midnight, the possessor could not be perceived by human eyes. (“We have the receipt for fernseed,” effuses Gadshill in Shakespeare’s Henry IV. “We walk invisible.”) When the microscope was invented, fern watchers discovered something nearly as magical -- spores so tiny they could float in the air, wafting across oceans. Fiddleheads of the ostrich fern are delicious. They should be cut without much stem, cleaned of their brown scales, boiled for about two minutes, then sautéed with garlic, chives, and butter. Azure Acres Only, perhaps, if the Civil War had been lost by the North would Virginia be large enough to contain all of our Virginia bluebells. From New York to Minnesota and south to Arkansas and North Carolina, these tall, striking forget-me-nots are in spectacular bloom. Sometimes the inch-long, trumpet-shaped flowers extend in azure carpets over acres of floodplain, moist woods, and wet meadow. Bluebells are ephemeral perennials, which means their foliage begins to die shortly after they bloom. Enjoy them while they last; in a few weeks they’ll be completely dormant.