"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Common Wildflowers

The day could have been a disappointment. The reddish purple Grass Widows we went to see were already past their prime, and the lush golden blanket of Balsamroot had not yet unfolded onto the rocky landscape.

As we began what has become our annual pilgrimage to the see the wildflowers at Catherine Creek, it appeared that other than a nice hike in the windy sunshine and the pleasure of each other's company, the day would not offer any uncommon splendor.

While Walt stopped to shoot some Gold Stars, sweet but common little things, I wandered slowly up the trail looking for something uncommon. More Gold Stars. Buttercups. Prairie Stars. All as familiar as the daffodils growing in my yard at home. Off the trail, up a slight incline, I noticed small patches of faint pink. With watchful care (this is poison oak country) I worked my way in for a closer look.

I nearly shouted my excitement, but instead breathed in the extraordinary, and for me the first, sight of Dutchman's Breeches. In my explorations of wildflower field guides I've come across pictures of these wild relatives of the Bleeding Heart many times. And here they were, right in front of me in all their soft weird glory. Looking for all the world like little rows of Hans Brinker pants lined up on willowy racks.

As we continued our hike I decided a first like that sighting was probably enough uncommon for one day. I also believed there had to be more. And I searched with hopeful eyes.

Patches of Yellow Bells were the next surprise. Not so exciting or showy as the Dutchman's Breeches, but new for me, so deserving of special attention and uncommon status. Their tiny drooping heads in shades of orange and yellow blended into the surrounding grasses and would have been easy to miss. Once we saw one, however, others nearby revealed themselves in a sort of magical uncloaking. For the rest of the hike we saw patches of these fairy flowers mixed in with other blooms.

We began to see Shooting Stars amongst the Yellow Bells, and that's when the day shifted for me. 

I've seen Shooting Stars before. Every Catherine Creek hike has given us at least a few. I have vague memories of seeing them as a child. They've made appearances on other hikes in recent years. So even though I stopped to admire the alien beauty of the vivid magenta petals trailing away from black and yellow and white centers, I was not willing to grant them uncommon status.

Even farther along the hike when I spotted the first large patch of Shooting Stars, I was happy to see them, but still not convinced that anything extraordinary was going on. I'm not sure if it was the third, or fourth, or fifth explosion of bright pink that began to change my mind. But at some point I realized that we were in the midst of Shooting Star prime time. They were everywhere, so vast and plentiful that they had to be considered common.

We stopped at every patch, our admiration growing deeper and more detailed each time. The sense of reverence only grew with the increased abundance. The uncommon became common became extraordinary. And into that open-hearted sense of wonder many other common extraordinary flowers revealed themselves:

White Plectritis, Camas, Filaree, Rigid Fiddleneck, Upland Larkspur, Desert Parsley, Sierra Snake Root, Small-Flowered Blue-Eyed Mary, Chickweed Monkeyflower, Naked Broomrape, Great Hound's Tongue.

When we got back to the car, I looked Shooting Stars up in my field guide, and was reminded that there are seven varieties that grow in the Columbia Gorge. The one that blooms at Catherine Creek in April is the Poet's Shooting Star. Absolutely nothing common in the magic of that gift of words.

Photos by Walt Shucka


Carrie Wilson Link said...

Love that you two have this tradition. Super cool.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Beautiful! Blog bling awaits you at my place.

Marian said...

Oh My! What a treat to find these pictures, taking me along on your walk to find the flowers. I was so cheered by them! and Oh! again (or should I say "O!" (it's more poetic, you see)-- that variety of "common" shooting stars so aptly named for you! the poet.
I'm up too late, writing and researching etc, and one thing led to another and I re-found your blog. Now I feel like I've had a refreshing little mountain walk.
Thank you! All best to you, and the journey you are on, and the transition you are making. Good night...

Anonymous said...

It snowed hear last night, again. Thank you for sharing your flowers with me. Shooting stars are one of my favorites, I have some in my garden.

Jerri said...

Trust you to find poetry in the common. Beautiful.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Oh, so beautiful - I love spring! These photos and descriptions are lovely....

M said...

The wildflowers may be common...but your writing is anything but!! So beautiful! I'm glad you and Walt take the time to be together to enjoy the beauty that surrounds you...and that you both appreciate it. You are both gifted...you with your writing and Walt with his camera. I love you both.


Nancy said...

The sense of reverence only grew with the increased abundance. The uncommon became common became extraordinary. And into that open-hearted sense of wonder many other common extraordinary flowers revealed themselves:

A beautiful way to live life. Thanks for this.

She said...

I have ZERO flower literacy, but I'd like to learn, and you teach me every time I come here! ; -)

kario said...

I can't wait to go for a walk with you again, friend.

Anonymous said...

quite interesting article. I would love to follow you on twitter. By the way, did any one know that some chinese hacker had hacked twitter yesterday again.