I doubt my canoeing companion would have so readily shared a prime fiddlehead location if it hadn’t taken three days to get there. In a swamp where the skunk cabbage was in full leaf and the yellow trout lilies just beginning to bloom, coils of young ferns pushed through the winter-dried brown leaves beneath arching silver maples beside the river. But not all of the young fiddlehead-shaped ferns were edible. Young wood ferns, with their slim brownish stems, were not our quarry. Ostrich ferns were. When fully leafed out, the fronds reach chest-high in good habitat and resemble plumes of ostrich feathers. 

This year’s young fronds were just emerging, coiled tight into the classic fiddlehead knob of dark green with a brown papery sheath, and a deeply grooved stem. With a goal of picking no more than half the fiddleheads from any one clump so as not to weaken the roots, it took 15 minutes to pick a gallon as the river gurgled past and baby crows yelled for food from a nearby nest.

Spring is an apt name for this season in the north woods; everything is coiled and ready to burst and so vibrant it is impossible not to get caught in the rush.

After winnowing the brown husks from the fiddleheads, rinsing, and boiling in water for 10 to 15 minutes, the fiddleheads were ready for butter and vinegar. Given a freshly caught trout and a glass of  dandelion wine, I would never have come back home.