When we swat away the mosquitoes to climb into the summer alpine, we take a good look at what’s quite literally under our noses (easy to do as you climb because you’re moving slowly and your nose is often close to the ground), the micro-view matches the expansive mountain vistas. Patches of moss campion, inkypot gentians, tiny potentilla, anemones, the mosses, the blooming heather, meltwater tumbling down through picturesque grottos streaked orange with xanthoria to form pools of astonishing clarity, well, why would anyone bother planting tulips or petunias? And this is early in the season, before the avalanche slopes and lower meadows are knee-deep in valerian, hellebore, artemesia, lupines, and I know I’m forgetting many others.
Even at lower elevations, where we do plant tulips and petunias, the flora is sumptuous – Lynn valiantly mows the grass to keep back the press of fireweed, cow’s parsnip, young aspens, and roses that form a wall of vegetation – this time of year filled with the squawks, screeches and chirps of fledglings, soon to be gone either up high, further into the bush or maybe even back south. Our trail up out of the canyon needs regular attention to keep back the thimbleberry, snowberry, roses and young maple shrubs joining forces with the nettles, meadow rue, chocolate lilies, false Solomon’s-seal, columbine, twisted stalk, star-flowered Solomon’s-seal that all spring up new every single year. An astonishing fecundity.
I wrote a series of sonnets that were gathered in a chapbook Leaf Press published last spring- it has an impossible name – The Bathymetry of Lax Kwaxl – and arose from a kayak trip we made to the Melville-Dundas group of islands off the northwest coast a few years ago – Lax Kwaxl is the Tsimshian name for the islands. This is the first sonnet in the collection.
My curtains close against the winter darkness
scuttling through stripped down trees and shrivelled asters.
Summer is filed in photographs, in salmon
fillets and halibut buried in the deep freeze.
We struggle to remember willows frothing
with wind, with leaves and yellow warblers. The garden
green with cabbages and garlic scapes unfurling.
Grizzlies fat with sockeye, salal and huckleberries,
first children of a succulent world. Our kayaks
hang in the shed above a rolled up pea fence
and empty flower pots. The battered hulls tell stories
of rasping barnacles and the rumble of bull kelp
under the keel. Outside, the tide of snow
eats up the last light of fallen leaves.
It all happens so fast. And is over so soon. On a walk up the road, I stopped to take stock, to see what flora is here, right now, in Driftwood Canyon:
- cow parsnip just beginning
- more roses than we’ve ever seen before, but they’re fading fast
- sitka burnet
- geraniums – sticky and cranesbill
- cut-leaf anemone or Anemone multifida
- Jacobs ladder (almost done)
- large-leafed avens
- a few fireweed swelling
- bedstraw – its red roots a good dye
- the nasty hawkweed – such a lovely yellow
- peavine and vetch
- the bear berries (twin berries) dangle black from their red bracts – the birds (and bears, I guess) love them
- Saskatoon berries are forming
- raspberries in flower
- currants and gooseberries
- wild strawberries ripening – hot and sweet
- soapberries beginning
- snowberries still hiding, waiting until September to surprise us
Leaf miner has returned – the wonderful aspen green is turning silver yet again. And the cottonwood seeds are floating through the air like a lazy snowfall, blowing in the open door, snagging on pots, in the woodshed, reminding the grass that winter is not far off. But for the moment, oh, the wonder of it!