“Wildflowers are the stuff of my heart!”
Lady Bird Johnson
Richardson’s and Sticky Geranium. Lupine. Bedstraw. Salsify. Green Gentian. Cinquefoil. Collomia. Wood’s Rose. Paintbrush. Buckwheat. Evert’s Thistle. Forget-Me-Nots. Old friends line the trails and I can almost hear them call out greetings. My hiking pace slows as I call out names.
For 40 years, wildflowers have been my friends. Hours spent pouring over books and scrutinizing photos, even more hours sitting in fields and forests with hand-lens and drawing journals have solidified our relationship. Mostly common names but a few scientific names have crept into my lexicon. Self-taught, I began identifying using color and have progressed into learning the families of wildflowers. Unlike birds, flowers remain still and give me time to look closely enough to see small details. For this small favor, I remain grateful.
As July waxes into full-blown summer, I find Silky Phacelia high on the slopes of Druid Peak. And I sing: (to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecilia”) “Phacelia, you’re breaking my heart
You’re shaking my confidence daily
Oh, Phacelia, I’m down on my knees
I’m begging you please to come home” . Now, I dare you to ever walk by a Phacelia without singing!
I’ve bid farewell for another year to Yellow Bells, Pasqueflower and Sugarbowl. Shooting Stars and Glacier Lilies, too. Unless we climb to higher elevations and get lucky, these friends have gone to seed.
When it comes to flowers, I seem to be a generalist or perhaps a ‘lumper’. If I can recognize a Penstemon, I am happy. If I can call it a Paintbrush, it’s good to me. Just knowing their names gives me a feeling of familiarity and comfort. I am in my element when surrounded by flowers.
Years ago, paddling Yellowstone Lake in the Southeast Arm, the shore took on a strange purple hue. We paddled over, hopped out of our kayaks and were instantly enveloped within a field of Fringed Gentian. Again, while hiking in southern Yellowstone, we came across fields of Sego Lilies. These large white flowers created pinto colors of white with the greens of open meadows. It was difficult to hike through the lilies without wanting to stop and exclaim over each flower. Each was exquisite and unique. We wished to drink in the beauty of every flower.
Exquisite is also the descriptor for Green Gentian, this being a particularly good blooming year for the tall green flowers. Last winter’s snow and this spring’s rains and cooler temperatures have perhaps encouraged these subtle flowers to throw up their tall candles of blooms though I’ve read that a wet July and August four years earlier can trigger the bloom. And indeed, the Yellowstone records for July and August of 2014 show a total of 5.64 inches of precipitation. The plants bloom once during their life cycle, spending 20-80 years building energy through a yearly rosette base of leaves, which can be quite unremarkable and easily overlooked.
By now many of these wildflowers are as familiar as an old hiking boot. I’ve an idea of when and where I might see them and I feel an intimate recognition when a small splotch of blue or yellow or pink or white comes into view. Time has passed with each season of wildflowers. They come, they bring joy and beauty, and then they go. But they return the following year. There are lessons to be learned here about the impermanence of life, the renewal of nature, and the importance of making the most of each moment we spend on this earth.
“You belong among the wildflowers
You belong in a boat out at sea
Sail away, kill off the hours
You belong somewhere you feel free” Tom Petty