Category Archives: wildflowers

The very thing.

Web photo

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.

salsify

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:

Spreading Dogbane
Arrowleaf Senecio
Goldenrod
Deer Vetch
Ranger’s Buttons
Spanish Clover
California Aster
Delta Sunflowers
Groundsmoke

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:

Field Crescent Butterfly [Phyciodes campetris]
Mormon Fritillary

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.

-Francis Ponge

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.

Bridges’ Penstemon

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.

My Colorado explorations.

Royal Penstemon

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.

Beardtongue Penstemon

This penstemon called Beardtongue is all over around the Gorge.
Also cholla cactus and prickly pear.

Starvation Prickly Pear
Cholla

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.

Clara

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.

Mullein
Desert Madwort
Stemless Point-vetch

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.

Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pine

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.

Brodie

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!

We meet Mary and other May flowers.

Virginia Spring Beauty (Claytonia)

Here I am in Colorado, with my son “Soldier’s” family. It’s quite different from my last visit to the state, which was in the fall of 2018 when Clara was a newborn. The sky is blue and the grass green, the trees that were bare and brown back then are leafing out and the conifers have tender needle tips.

One day while Soldier was at work the rest of us walked at Monument Rock, through forests of gambel oaks to a monolith of sandstone. Other people on the path smiled to see all the children bending over one wildflower after another as we tried to find their names in my Seek app. “Which ones have you seen?” they asked. “The bluebells? And the Spring Beauties?”

Yes, we had. And many others: Crossflower, Nuttal’s Larkspur, Fringed Sagebrush, Tall Western Groundsel, Leafy Spurge, and Field Pennycress.

Bluebells
Slender Phlox

We were charmed to make the acquaintance of a tiny flower that Laddie was first to notice, a soft blue blur low to the ground at the side of the trail. We identified it as Small-flowered Blue-eyed Mary (collinsia). “Pleased to meet you, Mary!” the boys said, and carefully shook delicate stems. 

Along the trail we also stopped to peer at small fish in a pond, and I collected sand for my collection at the base of Monument Rock. The sun gets hot here, at the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains, and it felt good to me to be in that dry, slow oven. Seeing Joy and Clara on the sandstone path made me think of that book I love, Along Sandy Trails. One of the boys reminded me that the girl in that book did not wear pigtails.

At home later, we zoomed in on the picture of the Mary flowers to admire their fine lines and clear colors. And we walked around the house to compare the Bittercress there with the Field Pennycress we’d seen on our outing. May appears to be the perfect time for a wildflower lover like me to visit Colorado and join with my grandboys to make new flower friends. And we met a grasshopper, too!

A story of creamcups and scouring pads.

The washcloth and the scouring pad were right there, and plenty of (salt) water, for cleaning up, but my grandson Scout and I didn’t need them for that, as our recent snacks had been eaten out of hand. We were at the third beach of that morning, earlier this week when he was down here by himself visiting all his grandparents.

Scouring Pad Alga

On the way we had traveled over “Wildflower Hill,” as I’d named it two weeks ago. Most of the April flowers had faded, but foxgloves were in bloom!

Our first stop at the coast was at my most frequently walked beach, where we spent the most time and effort around the adjoining lagoon, and climbing up and down the dunes.

Beach Wormwood

Our family and other homeschoolers used to play here 20 and 30 years ago. I found a few pictures showing us back then, when Kate was an infant:

Scout wanted to see the beaches that he’d gotten to know last summer, so next we went to one of those, where we noted the layers of different colors of sand, and the color of the ocean.

Yellow Sand Verbena

It was chilly and breezy, so we were glad to have our windbreakers. He was swimming in his borrowed jacket (but not in the ocean!), and I was squeezed into mine that I’ve outgrown, but they worked fine.

Creamcups

California Goldfields

At the last beach, after our snack, Scout wanted to explore “on the other side of those rocks,” and he soon came back to tell me it was urgent that I come, too, and see the tidepools.

I was so surprised. All the times I’ve been on that beach, and I never knew… It was the most interesting collection of creatures I’d ever seen in tidepools. And all around, new plants as well. Thousands of mussels grew crammed together on the rocks.

California Mussels

limpets

Gooseneck Barnacles

Lots of Feather Boa Kelp still rooted to its rocks.

Giant Green Anemones hiding in sand.

Turkish Washcloth

Black Pine Seaweed

Rockweed

Besides the plants and animals whose names I’ve mentioned in captions here, we also saw Black Oystercatchers, Bee Plant, Dogwinkles, Sea Thrift and Silverweed. These many evocative names began to swim in my brain and tried to form themselves into a fantastical story… but in the end all I could extract was the vision of me at the sink with those seaweed dishwashing tools, the Turkish Washcloth and the Scouring Pad Alga. We picked off the real live leaves of various kelps to bring home; I’ve yet to make soup out of it.


It was quite a stimulating day. Scout and I shared the feeling that our minds were buzzing, our hearts full with the excitement of such life and beauty lying quietly under a few inches of water or briefly exposed, shining with the glory of God. He’s already planning his next visit to this spot, and how his mother must join us to share the joy. Sounds good to me!