Thursday, January 16, 2014

And the Seeds That Were Silent All Burst into Bloom

I have yet to go hiking this year. It’s driving me crazy. I’m getting older and heavier, and work is stressful. I like to sleep in, but the sun sets early. There’s no excuse. City life can be hectic and uncertain, bordered by mundane regularity, and it’s nice to get away from that and soak in some of nature’s cycles and rhythms. One of those cycles is coming around again now: Grass widow is beginning to bloom again at Catherine Creek, and I need to go reintroduce myself.

Catherine Creek rises from the Columbia with miles of rolling hillside cut by streams, meadows, stands of oak, solitary ponderosa, mixed forests, and towering basalt cliffs. Abandoned dirt roads and a wild profusion of bike and hiking trails run everywhere. There are a thousand hidden places to discover, yet the views stretch far upriver and down. It’s possible to spend an entire day in solitude by a burbling creek or lichen-encrusted outcrop of stone, sitting on soft moss surrounded by wildflowers, watching raptors ride updrafts and listening to meadowlarks sing. Tilting fence posts strung with rusty barbed wire are reminders of a recent past when these hills were grazed by cattle, but now deer file through the grass at dusk to browse the meadows, and in spring, the thin soil swells with water and luxuriant moss.

Grass widows begin to bloom in January, but really get going in February and March, when they cover the rolling hillsides in clusters of vibrant green stems and blossoms that range from purple, violet, and pink to deep magenta. They do best in wet soil and moss, and blossom in grass as well, often near fallen trees where the soil is held together by additional organic matter. Grass widows are perennials, and when they die back, they relinquish the meadows to wave after wave of wildflowers deep into the heat of summer.
Like hundreds of other species, grass widows were named after David Douglas, the Scottish naturalist who first described them scientifically at Celilo Falls in 1826. Years later, scientists classify grass widows as two separate species. The first, Olsynium douglasii, is distinguished by petals with rounded tips (formerly Sisyrinchium douglasii). The second species, Olsynium inflatum, has petals with pointed tips and inflated filaments (formerly Sisyrinchium douglasii var. inflatum).

Thankfully, you don’t have to be a botanist to enjoy acres of blooming Grass widows. You don’t even need to get on your knees and study the petals to understand them (although it’s recommended). But it’s critical to a real, deep, ecological and ethical sense of place to know something about the flora and fauna living in that place. If you love something, you owe it respect, attention, and a receptive mind, at the very least. This is a fair trade. There are different kinds of sentience and your presence in a place does not go unnoticed, just as you should not let the presences in that place go unnoticed. Do not deceive yourself into thinking that the earth stops observing you when your eyes are closed. As the song goes, you are the eyes of the world.

No comments:

Post a Comment