What You Can See on March 11

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. Spring Cure-all These days the main and best use of hepatica is for brightening late-winter woodlands just about everywhere in America and, with them, the spirits of those afflicted with cabin fever. You have to admire any wildflower with the pluck to bloom under corn snow. But combine this with blossoms that vary between white, lavender, pink, and blue, all in pastels as delicate as the season is harsh, and you have what John Burroughs called “the gem of the woods.” Hepatica is also used (with declining frequency) to treat sunburn, freckles, bleeding lungs, and, since its leaves are shaped like a liver, ailments of that organ. Seventeenth-century English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper recommended it for “bites of mad-dogs.” American Indians used it to straighten crossed eyes and expel—albeit with the contents of their stomachs—dreams about snakes. Slow-Motion Monster Early spring is the best time to see one of the few monsters recognized by science—a resident not of lochs or seas but of the deserts of our Southwest. The Gila monster, our largest lizard, spends 98 percent of its time underground. But now, especially early in the day, it waddles about looking for eggs, young birds, and young mammals. At a maximum size of 5 pounds and 24 inches, it’s a thoroughly unimpressive “monster,” but it is one of only two descendants of the venomous lizards that roamed Earth 40 million years ago. Its poison, about as potent as that of a rattlesnake, is chewed into the victim; but there isn’t much, and it is almost never fatal to people. Unlike rattlesnakes, Gila monsters use their venom strictly for defense, delivering it as a last resort after hissing and backing away. Moreover, they’re so sluggish they almost require human help in the human-biting process. If you get bitten, it serves you right—at least according to one Dr. Ward who, in the September 23, 1899 Arizona Graphic, vented his spleen as follows: “I have never been called to attend a case of Gila monster bite, and I don’t want to be. I think a man who is fool enough to get bitten by a Gila monster ought to die.”