My word for this year is gratitude, chosen to remind myself to notice and appreciate the good in the world even in–especially in–the tough times. For me, one of the best ways to prompt myself to be grateful for this life and my place in it is to get outside, preferably out of town into wilder landscapes nearby.
Which is why after several weeks of difficult news personally and in the larger world, I went for a run yesterday afternoon instead of writing this blog post.
It worked: I started to smile when I spotted the first Easter daisies (the common name honors the season when this ground-hugging member of the Composite family blooms) flowering on the sagebrush-dotted bench between town and the Shoshone River, along with two kinds of desert-parsley, and abundant cushions of the unbeautifully named but quite lovely spiny phlox.
Easter daisy, Townsendia exscapa, is in the photo at the top of the post; below is spiny phlox, Phlox hoodii. Notice the native bee pollinating the starry white phlox flowers on the left side of the photo.
This afternoon, a new friend and neighbor, Jane, took me on a hike up in the Shoshone River Canyon, ten minutes from town, where she had seen even more wildflowers than I saw on my Easter-afternoon run. I don’t normally play hooky on a work-day, but my intuition said loudly, “Just go!”
And what a wonderful ramble it was: We began near the Shoshone River, rushing cold and cloudy with spring runoff, and climbed up through layers of rounded glacial cobbles, soft tan shales, cliff-forming ivory and gray limestone, and then followed a draw up through more shale layers toward a distant cliffs of limestone stained pinkish-red by iron leaching from the rocks.
The wind sweeping down the canyon was chill, the sun warm, the sky blue with fingers of cloud appearing frm the west. I could feel my spirits rise just being outside.
We saw wildflowers right away, clinging to the steep walls of in the canyon, including the blue-purple Penstemon nitidus (waxleaf penstemon) in the photo above.
As we turned up the draw and away from the road, the real show began. Two kinds of desert parsley hugged the ground, one sulfur yellow (leafy wild parsley, Musineon divaricatum in the photo below), the other creamy with purple accents (salt and pepper, or Lomatium dissectum).
And then Jane spotted the first stunning carmine flowers of desert paintbrush (Castilleja angustifolia var. dubia). First just one stalk, and then clumps of stalks, and soon we saw neon-bright paintbrush stems everywhere in the grassland around us, including growing right through the wind-sheered form of a Wyoming big sagebrush in the photo below.
Can you tell by its brilliant red color and tube-shaped floral bracts that desert paintbrush is a hummingbird-pollinated plant? Even from high overhead, that flash of red would be hard to miss, especially for hovering migrants needing a fuel stop.
Then I spotted a magenta dot on the grassy hillside above the draw, and another and another. Shooting stars! (Dodecatheon pulchellum in the language of science, and one of my all-time favorite wildflowers.)
I tried to shoot an individual shooting star with its dark “beak” of anthers and back-swept pink petals, but it wouldn’t hold still in the wind.
Just up the drainage a ways, I spotted another favorite wildflower, Nuttall’s violet (Viola nuttallii), host plant for one of the classic sagebrush-grassland butterflies, Coronis Fritillary (Speyeria coronis).
We wandered uphill, finding more wildflowers, looking at rocks, and just enjoying being outside. Jane found some limestone with mussel shell fossils, and her Golden Retriever found a toothsome chunk of deer pelt to carry and chew.
We were discussing whether to follow a game trail farther up the drainage toward the cliffs in the distance when I looked up the canyon.
“Those clouds fingering over the ridge from the West look serious,” I said, pointing. Jane agreed that it was probably time to turn back.
A rainwater-pitted limestone boulder growing four kinds of lichen (one is silver-gray, one blaze orange, one flagger-yellow, and the smallest is black).
We didn’t hurry, taking our time to admire more wildflowers, rocks, and a trio of mountain bluebirds that appeared on a juniper snag below us, one sky-blue male and two gray females. By the time we reached the dirt road, the wind was blowing hard down the canyon, the warm sun had gone behind clouds growing from the West, and the temperature had dropped at least ten degrees.
When we hit the paved road in the canyon bottom just below the river, we were glad to turn out backs to the wind, and to the fat drops of cold rain beginning to fall. In the time it took us to walk the last quarter-mile to the car, the wind began to gust so hard we were bent over, the rain changed to a full-out deluge mixed with hail, and the rapids in the river below threw off a fine mist of cold spray.
Once in the shelter of her car, we laughed about being soaked on our backs and dry on front–the contrast between windward and lee sides very evident.
Ten minutes later, I was in my own cozy house, shivering just a little from being half-soaked, and still smiling. Even the tick I found when I changed into dry clothes didn’t dent my joy.
And now, as I look over my wildflower photos to share them with you, I am still smiling, still grateful to be part of this wondrous world.
Taking time to nurture our spirits is always important, especially when the news is grim and life full of rocky spots.
So please give yourself the gift of doing whatever makes you smile, and makes your heart sing. It’ll do us all good.