Dear ERTHAWARE Co-Explorers,
In our last report on August 3rd we left you while we were standing next to 15’ (4.6 m) snow-drifts in mid-Summer. While much of our little planet has been experiencing record heat waves, droughts, floods, and storms this year, our small Pacific West-coast corner of the Earth has had record cool temperatures and high precipitation this recent Spring and early Summer. Scientific climatological models based on extensive historical ground and satellite data are showing a perceptible shift in general global weather patterns with some limited areas experiencing temporary anomalies that buck the trend, or, perhaps, are signs of new local trends. Time will tell.
So, while in early August we were stopped by snow drifts from gaining the alpine areas on our favorite mountain road, we recently tried again. The National Park Service bulldozed their way through to the end. In addition, during the last 4 weeks, unrelenting sunshine each day in the high country above the marine cloud layers has accelerated the snow-melt. The road is open. (photo below: our road with wisps of marine layer clouds blowing up from the sea 6000’ [1828 m] below.)
Because of the coolness during the Spring and early Summer and the subsequent delay in snow-melt, the alpine wildflower season has been compressed into beautiful chaos. Flowers that normal bloom in early July are now blooming in August along with the August flowers. As we ascended through subalpine forest, in lush openings were a brilliant mélange of tiger lilies, columbine, lupine, larkspur, bistort, cow parsnip, paintbrush, thistle, penstemon, yarrow, valerian – too diverse to capture in one picture.
I have been roaming these Olympic Mountains for 49 years. It is known for its 1000+ species of wildflowers. And its alpine meadow displays are among the finest on this little planet. I would rank the meadow flower-show this summer among the top 5 of my life experience.
It is not uncommon to see a mountain meadow of blue lupine – pretty enough. But this does not compare with the very rare sight of a field of deep purple to rich blue larkspur. We were stunned as we came upon this meadow punctuated by yellow wallflowers and scarlet paintbrush backlit into brilliant luminosity by the morning sun.
As we climbed towards Obstruction Peak we came upon acres and acres of avalanche lilies. These plants start their growth under the greenhouse effect of the thinning snow warmed by the sun. The flowers appear soon after the snow has melted. Thus this extensive meadow of thousands upon thousands of lilies in mid-August had been free of snow only a week before. Normally such displays are characteristic of early to mid-July.
Just to show you the sheer concentration of alpine flowers in some of the meadows, here is a display of lilies of such density that we could not walk through it without crushing their delicate beauty. It was as if the gods had scattered a million bulbs across this high tundra ridge.
While we took many photos of other spectacular meadows, I’ll end this ERTHAWARE REPORT for philosophical and naturalistic reasons with this extensive scrubby mat of rich yellow-gold cinquefoil growing near the top of the ridge.
I am a perennial romantic, and when coming across such scenes of exquisite beauty I can allow my emotions to run in epiphanic and orgasmic reverie – certainly not to be denied. The capability of such high emotion is a gift, but often a gift that needs to be educated and trained to contemplate the reality beyond the momentary beauty. It is easy to dribble out a blithe comment in such ideal conditions as – “how can someone not believe in god with such beauty!” I call this “shallow spirituality” in which tourists can retreat to their comfort controlled havens while ignorant of natural history. The reality is different.
These meadows in glorious reproductive display last only a week or two in a whole year. If you notice the scraggily trees at the top of the ridge to the left of Dennis in the red shirt – the trunks of the trees are almost bare of branches facing Dennis, but dense with branches facing the other way. This is because these battered trees are buffeted with prevailing winds from the west all year long. And those winds blast rain and sleet and ice and snow into this high country – certainly a natural reality that would threaten our survival if we were forced to exist here. Thus the fuller story of these delicate, splendid meadows is a story of survival, adaptation, and environmental toughness that makes the contemplation of their existence even richer in meaning.
On occasion I have camped in such high country when the flowers were not blooming, and I was tent-bound with companions for several days by horrendous storm. I have yet to hear a companion stick his/her head out from a tent in such conditions and yell into the screaming wind and needle-biting sleet: “how can anyone not believe in god with such #*&+# ugly weather!” Yet through those storms we have learned there is a much deeper story to meadow-beauty than glossy calendars or picture books or sentimental poetry and devotions. Romance must be informed by reality. But reality can make the wine of romance deeply rich. That takes mind-education and soul-learning…and it’s rarely easy.
Such is Life!
On the journey,
Hugs from Lynn and me