This is a picture of what my mom called Crow’s Feet when I was a kid. Apparently that’s what they call it in Pennsylvania where she grew up although it is more commonly referred to as Running Cedar or Ground Pine. Its a lovely evergreen perennial that you can find on the floor of most forests from Canada all the way down to Alabama. It reproduces via spores, much like ferns, and unfortunately for me and my desire to have this growing in the woods around my yard, does not like to be transplanted. The fronds you see above are actually connected by runners that can be several feet long making them a favorite target for gatherers of holiday greenery, but as we now know, it takes several years, a few decades even, for these plants to grow large enough to make a decent wreath so its better to leave them where they lie.
However, in the years before we were sensitive to the growing habits of delicate plants, there were occasions where my mom would tell my dad to take me out in the woods to gather Crow’s Feet for a centerpiece or a wreath. Obviously, this would be happening in December and usually right before we were about to have company for dinner or a family gathering. This was actually a ruse to get my question-asking, mess-making, loud-for-no-reason self out of the house to give her some peace so she could prepare without me insisting on tasting the desserts and gagging over any dish that contained vegetables.
My dad and I would walk through the woods for what seemed like hours with our gun-shy English pointer, Sissy. As a hunting dog she was pretty useless. Her fear of guns and gunfire inspired her to run ahead and warn any living creature that humans were about in an effort to avoid loud noises. However, on long walks with no guns in hand or hunting in mind, she would stay with us until she saw a deer to chase and off she’d go. She’d always manage to catch up with us when she was tired of running or return home on her own.
Sometimes we’d see Crow’s Feet, but I can only remember picking it once or twice. There was a drought one year and it was hard to find for a few years after that. Regardless, we’d cut some pine branches and holly on our way back up the path to our house and I would briefly wonder why we hadn’t just done that to begin with.
I always looked forward to those long walks in the cold woods on a winter evening and coming home as darkness fell. There would be fire going in our wood stove and we could smell the wood smoke long before we could see the light streaming through the kitchen window on the back porch. My hands would be mostly numb by the time we reached the backyard and my stomach would be acutely aware that it was dinnner time. Walking kept us warm, but as soon as we stopped to take off our boots, the chill would set in and the light of indoors would diminish the twilight vision of dark trees and emerging stars. Lured inside by the smell of a hot stew, I’d sit next to the fire until the chill was mostly gone and my mother called me to the table.