Friend Bella and I took a hike early in the morning, into the hills nearby. The slopes all around have gone from the winter green stage on through the golden months, and are now dull brown. But they are not unpleasant to look at from a distance, and in addition to the ubiquitous oaks, bay trees make dark green splotches here and there.
At close range one sees the hard and bare dirt, the tufts of grass withered to shreds, and minimalist lichens on the rocks looking healthy and pretty. Those autumnal scenes are bleak, compared to the real deserts I recently visited. We took our tonic from the fresh air, and I took a picture of the new-to-me and alien Purple Star Thistle, whose flowers beautify the neighborhood, while its thorns warn, “Stay away!” Honestly, I am minded to stay away from this particular park until the rains come and once again water the earth to green.
Driving from Baker, Nevada to Mammoth Lakes, California took most of the day, and filled our vision with wide views. Pippin took the picture above showing one fine example.
We stopped within a few minutes to take pictures of clouds. Scout rode with me for a while, long enough to tell me stories of third-century Rome, especially of the tetrarchy of the the emperor Diocletian. When we pulled over for car and human fuel Ivy took his place, and for about an hour we didn’t have enough of a mobile signal to listen to a book together, so I asked her to tell me about The Black Stallion, which she read very recently. She is a good storyteller; I think she remembered more details from her first reading than I even noticed the last time I read it.
As soon as possible, we started listening to The Call of the Wild, which she chose from my Audible library. I hadn’t read it since I was just a little older than she is now. We finished the whole book during our drive, and Ivy paid close attention. The next day on the trail, she was composing poems as we hiked, one of them about a husky dog in the northern wilds.
We saw plenty of mountains in the distance as we pushed on toward California, but the plant life seemed thin. Only when we parked our cars along a wide spot in the road in the Stone Cabin Valley did Pippin and I see the truth. Darling and diminutive flowers in a rainbow of pastel colors were scattered all over the gravelly sand.
The Professor was amused at the sight of our happiness in what many would call a “godforsaken place,” as we scanned the ground for just one more version of what the Seek app told us was “Saltlover.” Here is the picture he took of us:
What we learned later when we were able to research it online was surprising and a little sad. This plant Halogeton glomeratus is not a native plant but was introduced from Russia and China; it is a noxious weed of the amaranth family in rangelands of the American West, because of what it does to livestock and to the soil. Grazing sheep are especially vulnerable and can be killed by the high levels of oxalates it contains, and the mineral salts it excretes into the soil make it hard for other plants to survive. Two different species of plants have been introduced that tolerate the salts and might compete under the harsh conditions of that territory. The seeds of Saltlover “have the ability to germinate within one hour after being exposed to water.” That is vigor!
A bright orange flower stood up above these little spires in a few places, the Desert Globe Mallow:
And colorful rocks also caught our eye. I wanted to take this big one home, but after I dislodged it I could see it was too large and heavy:
Not to worry, several other smaller ones were just as brilliant, and before we piled in our cars again and continued on our journey, I had squeezed a few in the back of my Subaru. I told the children that when I die, they should be sure to take these rocks out of my garden and keep them as their own continuing memorials to the time Grandma came along on their mountain and desert explorations.
The hawk dropped down to the shoulder of the road just ahead of where I was driving down the mountain. It was at the elevation where you start to see the elderberries that don’t grow much higher, about 6,000 feet. He carried something in his talons that touched the ground just before he did.
I didn’t see any cars in my rear view mirror, so I slowed to a stop in the middle of the road and looked out the window at him, a few feet away on the other side of the road. He looked calmly at me. I should say, he looked in my direction, because I don’t know… what if I were the first human he had ever seen? Does a bird focus on another creature’s face and eyes, the way a human baby does? I stared and he looked a little bored, for ten long seconds, and then he flew into a tree nearby.
That meeting was one of the exciting events of my drive down from the mountains this week. I’d stayed at the cabin two more nights after my family departed, and had anticipated that when I finally left I would do my typical stop-and-go meandering for at least the first few thousand feet of descent, say, from 8,000 to 5,000 feet elevation. Because in July there are many more wildflowers than in September, the month in which I most often have visited this part of the High Sierra.
When the rain began to fall, and fell harder the morning I was to leave, it seemed my plans would have to change, and I might only be collecting rocks for my garden, instead of wildflower pictures. I always love rain at the cabin, so I did not complain at all. And it surely wouldn’t be a bad thing if I got home sooner rather than later. But — about the time I’d finished closing up the place and packing my car, the clouds began to break up, so that this was my last view of the lake:
The first wildflower I found, one I hadn’t seen for years, was Mountain Pride, bordering the road. It and Wavyleaf Paintbrush had few flowers remaining, but they provided a bright contrast to the sky, water and granite. This is a picture of them taken four years ago nearly to the day, in the same place. The snow melted earlier this year, as there was not much of it, so the bloom peaked before I got here.
I noticed or met for the first time no fewer than 18 different species of wildflowers that day, most of which I wrote down in a little notebook each time I got back into my car to drive further along the road, going slow and keeping my eyes open for spots of color, or whatever else might appear. Some of the flowers that I won’t show you were:
My favorite flower of the day by far was Bigelow’s Sneezeweed, a darling thing which I first saw in this area many years ago. I pulled over for it several times, and the last time was the best display, with bees and two kinds of butterflies drinking at the blooms.
One of them was the Field Crescent, of whom I didn’t get a good shot, but here is one I found online of this little insect:
Should Nature at times, on our awakening, propose to us The very thing to which we were disposed, Then praise at once swells in our throats. We feel we are in paradise.
The corn lilies were blooming, and a beetle was on site for that glorious event, seeming to have lost its head over pollen:
Fireweed waved its purple flowers in the breeze. “It earned its name because this plant is the first colonizer in the soil after forest fires.”
This next picture shows an area ripe and ready for some fireweed to sprout and grow; it is a landscape resulting from the Creek Fire last fall.
That was the huge fire that necessitated closing the highway that we use to get to our cabin, the same week that Soldier’s family and I had planned to be up there. We went to the beach and took smoky pictures instead.
Already I saw wild roses blooming among the stumps, and this healthy milkweed:
I often have run across wildflowers with buckwheat as part of their common name. This page shows you how vast is that family, called Polygonaceae, that includes mountain sorrel, curly dock — and rhubarb, of all things. But the strange species I saw a lot of on my drive was Naked Buckwheat.
It has strong, wire-like stems that are tall and bare for most of their length, with white puff-balls at the tip.
I wanted to get a nice picture of the elder bushes in flower, and when I squeezed in close this bright and rather large beetle got my attention:
I began to think of all the fascinating and complex creatures that live their (often short) lives in “obscurity.” I bet no one else had ever seen that bug. God lavishes the earth with life and beauty as an expression of His generosity and love.
As I went down the mountain, it was like an hours-long birthday party with Him saying, “Stop here. See that flower? It’s one of the special gifts I’m giving you today.” Then, “Look there! A red and black bug I chose just for you.”
He gave me sneezeweed because they are my old friends. He introduced me to a hawk for something new. Butterflies fluttered, proposing the very thing to which I was disposed. This place was not paradise, we can tell that by the fire damage, and many other aspects. But there was a little taste of Paradise in my soul, and praise swelling in my heart.
I’m the opposite of bored here in Colorado with my son’s family, but I have had a terrible yawning problem since I arrived ten days ago. It must be the altitude (7300′), which I will blame for the sleepiness that comes over me at times, too.
Today was the least yawny and sleepy. Soldier drove us south a bit to a lower elevation, where we also enjoyed warmer weather while we played around at the Royal Gorge. Maybe everyone has heard about this canyon above which a suspension bridge was built in 1929, 955 feet above the bottom, where the Arkansas River flows along a single railroad track.
It was another happy chance to identify wildflowers and plants. I’ve been doing that a lot.
This penstemon called Beardtongue is all over around the Gorge.
Also cholla cactus and prickly pear.
There were a lot of fun things to do at the Royal Gorge park. We all rode the gondola across the gorge, and before walking back across the pedestrian bridge the children played on giant slides and tunnels, and rode the carousel. I took pictures of plants — and grandchildren, of course.
All week I’ve just been hanging around with the tribe doing much of what they do, or merely observing the more rambunctious activities of the boys, and listening to little Clara’s feminine conversation.
The cold and rainy weather has passed. The last of it was the evening we sat bundled up with coats and blankets to watch Liam’s Little League game out on the plains. Now the temps are moving into the high 70’s, and I can get sunburned sitting on the deck so close to the sun.
Many of the wildflowers I’ve identified are scrubby looking sorts with the most diminutive flowers. Also the beautiful blue Royal Penstemon at top, which we discovered just down the path from the karate studio while Liam was in class, along with purple Stemless Point-vetch. Magpies, robins, flickers and Mountain Chickadees flit and sing among the pines and firs and spruces that grow thick in the neighborhood.
Just at the edge of the back yard is a giant clump of White Willow trees where the boys play. Laddie told me about the Bible studies he likes to have with their rabbit stuffie in particular, on a rock in the middle, encircled by more than a dozen trunks arching up and away.
Yesterday everyone was digging and planting in hills and boxes, so I gave Brodie one of his birthday presents early: a pair of kids’ work gloves. He wore them all day, long after all the work was done, he loves them so.
A wolf spider with an egg sac was disturbed by the digging and ran away from the squash hills. This evening while I was with Clara under the play structure in the back yard, I saw a Cutworm Wasp digging a hole in the sand that had escaped the sandbox. I decided not to show you the wasp’s unremarkable photo, but will close with the spider, because that sleepiness is coming over me again, and tomorrow is another big day. Happy June!