Saturday, July 24, 2010
Early Summer is wildflower time in Oregon. It starts at the Spring Equinox, when we’ll find sixteen to twenty species blooming at sea level and climbs the mountains, following snowmelt, into late July. We follow the Spring Beauty, a small, ubiquitous white bloom, well into summer.
Wildflower hikes follow the same pattern every year. Mark, Maureen and I gather at eight in the morning (sometimes I can push it to nine…) . We are each armed with the necessary gear. As chief archivist of the trail, I carry the blank book, pen, colored pencils, and camera, to record the trip. I also carry the map and a watch, so that we all know where we are headed. Mark carries the basic plant book—Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast—and, sometimes, a specific book for the region, like our little spiral bound book of Mary’s Peak. Maureen, a mother, is loaded down with the first aid kit, extra food and water, and full rain gear. She is the most knowledgeable of the group, (she knows the latin names!) and often stashes the larger plant books in the car to be dug out after the hike, to key out a confusing specimen. Once we all have our gear…do we all have rain coats to ward off the possibility of rain? Do we have a snack for the ride home? Do we have the tuna for the sandwiches, or is it still in the fridge? We hit the road.
The hike itself is slow….Before we even leave the parking lot, the plant list begins. English Daisy. Dandelion. Foxglove. St. Johnswort—all of the plants that love disturbed surfaces. As we move into the shadows, Mark and Maureen call out the little white flowers—Foam Flower. Pathfinder. Wild Strawberry. Spring Beauty. I record them all. They stop to consider a plant. Mark pulls out the book, Maureen her little magnifying glass. We’ve traveled a hundred feet. “Isn’t this where we usually see the Spotted Coral Root?” I may call back, bringing the group along to hunt for the orchid. “There it is,” Maureen points, bending down to look at the tiny hairs within the flower. Slowly, we climb out of the Douglas fir forest and into the mountain meadows. Plants shift from subtle shades of white and green to deep blue, purple, yellow, pink in low growing masses against the grey rock. Larkspur. Indian Paintbrush. Penstemmon. At every slight shift of mirco-climate we pause, recording the blooms, commenting on changes from past years. “More fawn lilies this year, I think.” “Do you remember the year before last, when everything was so late?” “What’s that plant again? I know we figured it out last year, but that list is in the other notebook.” “Shouldn’t we be seeing that Cascade Lily that you photographed for Christmas cards?”
My goal is to reach the top by lunchtime. If we had an early start, it can happen. Otherwise, I give in and we stop in the mountain meadows. We share pretzels and dried fruit, assemble sandwiches, compare notes, count species, and consider the meaning of life. The hike down, inspired by the thoughts of tea in the back yard—or dinner at the Otis Café—is much faster. We have the plants, for the most part, we have spent over an hour hanging out at the high point of the trail, and it’s all downhill from there. We move quietly through the firs, spaced like the columns of a cathedral, listening to our water swish softly in backpacks, feet padding on deep humus or clacking on small flat stones, following our own thoughts towards home.
Personal Record—79 blooming plants on Iron Mountain, via Cone Peak Meadows, July 12, 2010