A Mountain of Wildflowers

 

The early July day we drove onto our property for keeps is a day I’ll never forget. The four-acre meadow was white, covered with native oxeye daisies—my favorite. There were enough black-eyed Susans thrown in for variety, but not enough to take away the impression of snowy summer field.

At that time, we had no idea how many different wildflowers would grace us each year. We had to live through a full year to see it all. More, actually—a few, like jack-in-the-pulpit, can be hard for the novice to spot in a wooded landscape.

We didn’t know the following May and June would bring rhododendron blossoms throughout these mountains or that June-blooming flame azaleas dotted our property with mountain laurel following close behind. We’d never heard of fire pinks, which are actually blazing red. Red bee balm and both yellow and orange-spotted touch-me-nots are summer-to-fall natives.

Milkweed, Joe-pye weed, and ironweed (none of which should have the word weed attached to them) add varying hues of purple to the landscape. Open fields turn yellow when wild mustard, common ragwort, and evening primroses bloom.

The list goes on from March’s trillium to October’s purple asters—not to mention the many varieties of ferns, mushrooms, mosses, and lichens that share this land with us. But we all know pictures tell a story much more eloquently than words. Enjoy the two slideshows below.

 

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Evensong

Evensong*

I sit on my deck,
cup of lavender tea in hand
and listen to the plangent call
of mourning doves.

I hear the wind roar
through our towering
Norway spruce
and stand in awe.

I see the lambent end of day
as sun descends behind mountain’s crest,
morphing our valley’s verdant concavity
into opulent ambers and golds with its radiance.

I watch as crows
fly into the forest to roost,
their incantatory cawing
calling the rest of their crowd home.

I ruminate on the meaning,
the purpose, of life.
This is the moment
when my mind oscillates

from doubt to faith,
from faith to doubt,
and back again.

Nature’s wisdom
obfuscates my skepticism;
the concatenation of human suffering and natural beauty
overwhelms me.

*Note: I participated in a phenomenal writing workshop a while back. Our facilitator presented us with a list of fourteen words—some common, some not so common—to incorporate into a story or poem of our own making.  See if you can identify them in my poem. (Hint: look for 4 adjectives, 4 verbs, 6 nouns.)

Trees

Trees

“I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.” —Joyce Kilmer, “Trees”

It may not the be one of the world’s great poems, but the sentiment rings true. Poems are just . . . well, poems. But trees! Trees are magnificent. The oldest known non-clonal living tree is a Great Basin bristlecone pine. At more tan 5,000 years old, it resides in California.

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It may not look it, but this 5,000 year-old bristlecone is still living. (Public domain photo by Mark Wilson.)

As old as many bristlecones are, they’re not all that tall, ranging from 16 to 49 feet. The award for tallest tree goes to one of those gargantuan redwoods we grew up learning about. There’s a Coast Redwood, also in California, that’s just twenty feet shy of being 400 feet tall.

Then there’s the General Sherman giant sequoia in—you guessed it—California, the largest known living tree by volume, at more than 52,000 cubic feet. A wild fig tree located in Mpumalanga, South Africa has roots that go down 400 feet—that’s a deeper root system than the above-ground height of the General Sherman.

Honors for the tree with the largest diameter (38.1 feet) go to El Arbol del Tule, a cypress in Oaxaca, Mexico. Its circumference is a whopping 137+ feet. It would take about 25 adults standing in a circle, arms outstretched, fingertips touching, to reach around that tree. To put that in perspective, it would only take 18 of those same people to encircle our home, with its 24 x 26´ footprint.

About those clonal trees. If you’re like me, you’ve never heard of clonal and non-clonal trees, so here’s a lesson in a nutshell, so to speak. A non-clonal tree is an individual tree, just like you and I are individual people. A clonal tree, though, is a colony of genetically identical trees. The individual trees originate vegetatively from a single ancestor instead of sexually. So, when we talk about the age of a clonal colony, we’re really talking about the root system. Since the entire colony is part of a single root system, the whole is considered in determining age and weight. Pando, a colony of single Quaking Aspen located in Utah’s Fishlake National Forest, is at least 80,000 years old (by some estimates as much as 1,000,000 years old) and weighs an estimated 6,000 tons, making it both the world’s oldest known clonal tree and its heaviest known organism.

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Pondo Quaking Aspen colony, Fishlake National Forest, Utah (Public domain photo, US Government)

These are the exceptions, of course, and there’s more to trees than their age or size or weight. Trees provide shelter and food. They cool us with their shade. When they’re downed, they provide heat in stoves and fireplaces. And let’s not forget that they absorb carbon dioxide and provide life-sustaining oxygen for us humans. Remember those 18 people surrounding my home? An acre of trees produces enough oxygen to let them breathe for an entire year.

See? I wasn’t exaggerating when I said trees are magnificent. Yes, poems are just words. Trees are the real poetry.

Here’s some tree poetry in photographs (all photos taken by the Gnome or the Crone).

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(Note: The statistics referenced above came various crosschecked online sources. Occasionally, there’s some contradictory information out there, but the point remains the same.)