I’m currently staying at my daughter Pippin’s place in far-northern California. Her family lives at about 4,000 ft., but my first day here we took a drive and then a hike that brought us near Mt. Eddy and to an elevation over 7,000 ft., at Deadfall Meadows.
The meadows stretch up the mountain around Deadfall Creek, which fills Upper, Middle and Lower Deadfall Lakes. Thousands of butterflies seemed to be accompanying us through those meadows; we especially were taken with the small pale lavender-blue ones that gave the impression of flower petals fluttering in the breeze.
Actual wildflowers were even more abundant. I am sharing here fewer than half of the ones that we admired and usually tried to identify, or confirm the identity of.
As we hiked I was only using my phone to take pictures or use the Seek app, and I never checked the time. We had left the house before 9:00 and when we got back to the car with our hiking all done, it was after 4:00, which was to me completely shocking.
Jamie in particular felt the length of the day; he always says that he doesn’t mind hiking, it’s his legs that do not like it. He’s seven years old and is amazingly chipper even when droopy, or lying down on the trail.
Our goal was the largest Deadfall Lake, the Middle one. We sat on the shore for an hour eating our snacky lunch and cooling our feet.
A water snake streaked out from the rocks in the direction of my feet, but when he got a few inches away and had a good look, it took him a split second to shift into reverse and swim back into his hiding place. After poking his head out and looking at the more beautiful members of the family, he posed briefly for Pippin and eventually left the area altogether for deeper waters.
Some people ride horseback on this trail, and muck it up into mudholes in the many places where the path crosses the creek. On our way back down scores of little butterflies were drinking at the mud.
The pale lavender-blue ones are likely blues, coppers or hairstreaks. There are more than six dozen species in those three categories in California, so Pippin read to me when we later tried to narrow down the identity of the particular ones that day. We had to wait until the end of the trail to get a good view, when Ivy was given permission to catch a butterfly while it was focused on its refreshment.
This morning as I was adding water to the fountain, a Monarch fluttered by, the first one I’ve seen this year. The next moment, I saw another butterfly across the garden, the one I see more often, and I thought I could find its name on my blog, but I can’t. It’s yellow and black. Two butterflies in two seconds!
I went to the community center to drop off my ballot, to the library to return a book, and to Costco to return an item that I’d bought impulsively only Sunday. As soon as I began unloading my car that evening, I knew it was a mistake, and did not even bring it into the house. It was a set of serving bowls that charmed me just long enough to necessitate today’s trip back to the store. Harder mistakes have happened.
My last stop was the thrift store, where a whole box of stuff including toys was rejected, because there was an all-metal (and clean, I tell you!) Nyger bird feeder stuck on top. The attendant reminded me of some rude Chinese restaurant waiters I have known, in the way he angrily judged my offerings as being contaminated by “poop.” I admit I went away from there briefly miffed.
How could I not be happy, when I had accomplished my outing before noon, and cleared my garage of another small load of stuff? My success gave me energy to keep sorting and organizing for a few hours. I threw away lots of pictures taken 60-80 years ago that are of people I never knew, or are so bad as to be insulting to the people I did know.
I took a nap, and then it was time to make dinner. While I was eating and watching the birds at the feeder outside, I read poetry. And it was the poetry that made me want to document that it was a morning with two butterflies.
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.
We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. -Thornton Wilder
I’m home from my travels, and have been wandering about the garden to see what has changed in the last three weeks. My housemate Susan watered all the pots through a heat wave, Alejandro staked sunflowers and trimmed perennials, and my neighbor Gary trained the pumpkin vines to the trellis.
When I departed in late May, the bumblebees were the dominant buzzers among the flowers, but once the lavender and the germander opened, the honeybees returned. They are very alive, diligently about their business, and not ignoring the salvia, either. This gray bee likes the echinacea blooms that are just now available for nectar refreshment.
Hyssop, chamomile, basil and parsley are making a jungle of buds and blooms in the vegetable box out back. I’ve been waiting for the hyssop to do something for two years, while it took up a large space in that planter. It is famous as a bee plant. When I see bees acting like this one below, it makes me want to grow hyssop again… but not in the planter next time:
This Hyssopus officinalis is not the anise hyssop that I grew in my previous landscape, which “is neither anise (Pimpinella anisum) nor hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis),” but Agastache foeniculum. But they are both members of the mint family, and bees appear equally devoted to them.
The insects focus intently on what gifts they are given from the Creator, and I have been bowled-over conscious of my own treasures, during my travels. The grandchildren in Colorado, and their parents trying to keep up, impressed me with their youthful vitality, compared with Grandma, who liked to sit on the deck, play Bananagrams, take leisurely walks… and never once jumped on the trampoline with them.
While in Idaho I was acutely aware of what treasures my friends Rosemary and Jacob are. Being with them is like swimming in a refreshing, nectar-rich pool of friendship.
We worked to identify various plants on their property, and found dewberries, thimbleberries, and wineberries; wild roses are everywhere, and white spirea. Along the country road where we walked, these Baker Mariposa Lilies dotted the foliage on the forest floor. Every one was dotted itself with one or more insects as conscious as an insect can be of its sweet treasure.
I think Jacob and Rosemary would agree with me that it is the Lord who has given us this prized possession that we hold as a threesome, love that is an overflow of the Holy Trinity, from whom all life emanates.
My friends are my estate. Forgive me then the avarice to hoard them. They tell me those who were poor early have different views of gold. I don’t know how that is. God is not so wary as we, else He would give us no friends lest we forget Him. –Emily Dickinson
I realize now that my aliveness is of a different sort from bees and children. My heart was continuing to sing and dance with thankfulness while my body sat quietly on airplanes for hours yesterday. So many treasures and the consciousness of them, and riches waiting for me when I arrive home… All this activity is making me sleepy like a toddler. Must be naptime!