Saturday, July 24, 2010

Wildflower Hikes

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 CafĂ©—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

Friday, July 23, 2010


I’ve coined a new word in local Corvallis politics—the Mega-Party. A mega-party is one that is “too big to fail,” usually involves over 100 drunken people, mostly underage, that spills out into the backyard, street, and neighborhood, resulting in several calls to the police in one night. We’ve had many since the Christian fraternity moved out and the trashy one moved in across the way almost three years ago. They have pushed us over the edge into activism, forming a neighborhood association and speaking before the city council. That’s when I realized that my phrase had taken hold…

There was a committee meeting for a change in the second response law on Tuesday at noon. The second response law, for those of you who do not live near a trashy frat house, says that, when the police have to come back to your residence again within a stated time frame, you are charged for the entire call—dispatcher, police time to process everyone at the party, gas for the cars, as well as any fines you may accrue for noise and under-age drinking. Before this week, the time frame was 48 hours. Anyone who has been to college in the last 25 years will see the loophole here. Parties are on Thursday and Saturday nights, not Fridays, so you can easily slip through the time slot, especially if you were busted early on Thursday. Keep the volume down until eleven, and you are safe. The proposed change extended this time for thirty days, which is an improvement in our eyes, not so much in the eyes of the trashy frat (which doesn’t know about it yet…).

Half of the neighborhood association, mostly from the sub-committee on noise, turned out to testify. The first person used my phrase—the mega-party, which was not surprising, as we had discussed the problem at some length. The city counselors looked puzzled for a moment, but nodded. They knew what he was referring to. Then another person worked it into her testimony. I gave my testimony and answered a few questions, using the phrase. At the end of our testimony, the police chief returned to the front to answer a few more questions. When he said “mega-party” I knew it was an established. I expect to see it in the G-T soon.

The measure passed. Granted, it was going to pass even without our testimony. It cost the city nothing, could be small source of revenue, and hurt no one except the mega-party. What’s not to like?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


I found cherries last weekend. It hasn’t been the greatest fruit year so far; the days were warm and the trees budded out before the bees came and then it grew cold and wet again, disrupting pollination and fruit set. Productive trees had few cherries; I trespassed into a near-by rental yard to check on the fruit and there were only a dozen on the branches. It’s making my goal of all local fruit, mostly foraged and free, a bit tricky. However, Mark has a friend with a tree and it was loaded and ripe. We just had to climb around on the garage roof for an hour of picking. We rode our bikes over to Ranch Land and slipped back in time, children playing and singing, neighbors chatting, all of those happy small ranch houses recalling what we think of as a simpler era.

I dried eight trays of the berries, made some cherry and red currant preserves, which as a little sweet, and canned a bunch for yogurt and granola for the winter. When I was finished, I surveyed the supplies from last year and made predictions for this year’s canning load, remembering that we eat far more dried fruit than canned and hardly any jam. I bought new lids, hauled the dryer, strainer, and steam canner out of the basement out of the basement, and stained them all red with cherry juice. The preserving season has begun!