Sixteen: that is the number of trilliums I’ve seen in the past two days. Sixteen! I wish I could travel back in time and tell ten-year-old me the good news: The trilliums made it. They didn’t go extinct.
When I was a girl, I worried so much about them. On one of the first hikes of my life, our Girl Scout leader told us trilliums were endangered and that was why we mustn’t ever pick them, beautiful though they were, shyly nodding their white tri-cornered heads from their shady hiding places. The scout leader said it didn’t look good for the trilliums: they might be gone very soon. She said this in a grave voice, as if she were talking about a very ill child. She told us that if we saw even one on our hike, let alone two or three, we’d be lucky.
But today, yesterday, here they were: 16 trilliums sighted on two urban runs, both through reclaimed green spaces within two or three miles of downtown Seattle.
And as I crouched to get a closer look, I thought: this is one of those good things about having a few more decades under my belt. I see the trilliums and I understand, in a way I couldn’t if I were ten or 20: when people put their minds to something, like saving a plant or an animal from extinction, it’s not necessarily some impossible dream. Change may sometimes be slow, but it is possible.
Trails through ravines that, not long ago, were choked with trash and blackberry vines: also possible, thanks to dozens of volunteers who spent dozens of Saturdays clearing weeds, cutting in steps, laying down gravel paths.
Bald eagles in city parks: not only possible but no longer even unusual. Seattle has several now, nesting in the older-growth havens like Seward and Discovery Parks but visiting all over the place, including the reclaimed ravines and heritage trees and pocket parks that now dot our city.
It is also possible the trilliums I saw in the urban woods were not the same super-endangered trilliums my scout leader was talking about. But in 30 years of running through the official and de facto parks of Seattle, I have never seen more than one or two lone trilliums at a time.
We get so cranky and impatient. We want Obama to change up Washington overnight. We want equality now, justice now, peace now. If you’re at a different place on the political spectrum, you might use different buzzwords—liberty, or freedom—but you’re probably impatient too. Just plain tired of how long change takes.
Wherever you are, politically, geographically, I bet there might be somewhere near where you live where some dedicated group has created a place to walk where one didn’t previously exist. Mine is a city ravine; maybe yours is a former train track or a reclaimed logging road or a boardwalk across a bog. Here’s my advice: walk there. Think about the people who worked hard to make it happen. Say hello to the plants and birds and animals that have moved back in. Maybe you’ll see one trillium. Maybe you’ll see sixteen.
What if my scout leader had given us a different message?
“Girls, go ahead and pick those pretty white flowers; they’re going to be extinct soon anyway.”
Saving a flower might seem like no big deal. On the other hand, if it’s what gets people to believe that change is possible—well then, take a bow, you shy trilliums. I am so thrilled you’re still around.