Trout Lilies, Sisters, Life, and Death

Every February I watch in anticipation for the pointy maroon tips of our native Erythronium umbilicatum leaves to push up through the hard winter soil. I run out into my garden several times a day, looking, feeling, hoping.


After the leaves emerge and unfurl, you can see the reason this plant is commonly called trout lily: the mottling on the leaves look similar to the markings of the brook trout. Not only is this a sweet little wildflower, but it is also a tangible, seasonal reminder for me to slow down, take one day at a time, and try not to rush through my life in a hurry to go on to the next big thing. Let me explain.


My sister, Reco, gave me these plants. She dug them for me one sunny, but chilly, March afternoon. I had stopped by her house while passing through Virginia on the way back from visiting my mom in West Virginia. I was tired from the drive, eager to get back on the road, and ready to get home and back to my own (fairly) manageable life. Reco wanted me to walk in the woods behind her house, so she could show me the carpet of yellow wildflowers, with “funky, spotted leaves.” We walked through quickly, and after a few hours visiting, I drove home, gas pedal pressed to the floor, as usual. In a hurry. Point A to point B. Quickly.


This is where I say, even though it sounds cliche: Life is precious, life is short, and I need to savor each day, even each moment, with those I love. Because today could possibly be my last day with them. And, although this was not my last day with Reco, it was one of the last days. Had I known it, I wouldn’t have rushed. I wouldn’t have insisted on leaving so soon. I would have stayed and had supper with her.


But, as we would often say to each other, in our secret sister language that only we understood, “Woulda shoulda coulda!” And what good is that now?

I miss her every day. I miss her laugh. I miss her calls. I miss her cards. I miss her.


I’m a different person now. Her death awakened me to my life. I don’t take anything for granted–my family, my friends, my health, my sanity, my breath. A tiny flower. Nothing.


Life is so short, so precious, and so brief.


It’s like these trout lilies: if you don’t go out every day and actively seek them, you will miss them. Their time here is over so quickly. Don’t miss your life. Seek it. Live it. Love it. Every single part of it.


What you’ll find is that the little things truly are the big things. Actually, they’re the only things. And they, like trout lilies, pass away too soon.


All photos mine, taken (2016) of the plants I treasure most in my garden in varying growth stages, given from a big sister to her little sister.


9 thoughts on “Trout Lilies, Sisters, Life, and Death

  1. Just beautiful Cheryl – beautiful! And reading your words of the gift you found after losing your sister I get a picture of her,standing up from the garden, brushing off the soil from her hands and smiling she says ‘Then my work here is done’. Which just makes me cry. xo

    Liked by 1 person

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