Botanicals | Nuttall’s Violet

For years, this little flower has been one of my favorites. Nuttall’s violets are diminutive, as far as violets go, and are the only species with lance-shaped leaves – thus, they are impossible to misidentify. IMG_6150eViolets have always intrigued me, and I can probably credit the violet family for first getting me interested in wildflowers. Their little faces are so shy and cheerful, and each species is so unique. I remember the first time I found a Nuttall’s violet, up behind my grandparents’ house, and I came back to their house and looked it up in a decades-old fieldguide of South Dakota wildflowers. I’ve since rejected this book in favor of a much more complete Black Hills and Bear Lodge Mountains fieldguide, which is a fantastic book I highly recommend for anyone looking to grow their knowledge of regional plants! Anyway, this first find was probably 15 years ago, and I have only managed to find any a few times since. Just a few each summer. But this year I have seen more Nuttall’s violets than ever before – they are having a wonderful year!



God’s Garden

Wildflower hunting was one of the stated intentions of this hike. Nevertheless, I was overwhelmed by the number of little gems that we saw and had never expected to see this many. It seemed as if my whole field guide was spread out and blooming. Flowers I’d never seen before, except in my field guide, were in full bloom, and others that I did know grew in quantities I’d never seen! It was truly stunning. There was absolutely no shortage of wildflowers in the burn area of the Legion Lake Fire. Rather, they were particularly abundant and spectacular. Prickly pear and barrel cacti were also quite abundant, which was some cause for concern: I’ve been accused of “crawling around on the ground” to take pictures of wildflowers. But one encounter with spines today was enough to make me much more cautious, so after that I was careful to look before kneeling down.

IMG_6433eWhite crazyweed – Oxytropis sericea

IMG_6415eTufted milkvetch – Astragalus spatulatus

IMG_6394eDesert biscuitroot – Lomatium foeniculaceum

IMG_6384eNarrowleaf gromwell – Lithospermum incisum

IMG_6380eMeadow deathcamas – Zigadenum venenosus

IMG_6377eMissouri pincushion – Coryphantha missouriensis

IMG_6354eLow larkspur – Delphinium bicolor

IMG_6323eDarkthroat shootingstar – Dodecatheon pulchellum

IMG_6315eHood’s phlox – Phlox hoodii

IMG_6314eDowny paintbrush – Castilleja sessiliflora

IMG_6304ePrairie smoke – Geum triflorum

IMG_6299eSmall-leaf pussytoes – Antennaria parvifolia

IMG_6293eeMountain blue-eyed grass – Sisyrinchium montanum

IMG_6283eWestern wallflower – Erysimum asperum

IMG_6278eNuttall’s violet – Viola nuttallii

Other flowers not shown here were the star lily, leafy phlox, prairie golden pea, various milkvetches and legumes, including the groundplum milkvetch (a favorite of mine, with an edible bean), yellow salsify, and a number of others. A beautiful afternoon to stroll in God’s Garden.


Spring’s Scattered Gems

A hillside of tufted milkvetch, and Wind Cave National Park and its rolling hills cascading in the background.
IMG_6424eThe highlight photo from today’s hike in Wind Cave NP!


Fast Spring, Slow Spring

The last few months have been anything but monotonous. From finishing up my job at the clinic in Rapid (a bitter-sweet change), to getting hired on at Dakota Greens greenhouse and nursery in Custer (officially starting work there this afternoon!), to a whirlwind trip to see my sister in Illinois two weeks ago (more on that later – lots of good photos from that trip!), to taking a bunch of online classes and doing hands on training to join the local volunteer fire department (more on that later as well), to prepping my students for their spring piano recital, this has been anything but a slow spring. And then factor in the sweet normalcy of daily life: time spent with family, time spent with church family, hiking with friends, movie nights with sisters and friends, planning our garden, starting to plant…It has been a lovely spring. But I’m still grappling with the fact that it is already May. May 2018. Where does the time go?

Botanically, however, this spring has taken its sweet time. The wildflowers have not seem to come to grips with the calendar, at least not where I live. Part of that must be the fact that we’re at about 3500 feet above sea level. We also had a number of late snowstorms and lingering winter weather. So the wildflowers have been slow in coming around the family property. The foliage is present – one of my favorite ravines will be absolutely bursting with columbine before too long – but anything but pasque flowers have been reluctant to blossom. To my delight, though, a short hike with Trixie yesterday morning revealed a handful of treasures.
IMG_5738eIMG_5711eIMG_5732eIMG_5694ePussytoes, lanceleaf bluebells, shooting star, and wild strawberry bloomed here and there, and I saw one or two stunted star lilies, and plenty of dandelions. They are the heralds. The rest will arrive shortly, turning our Hills into a thriving bouquet!

Old Trails

Sometimes it is the old trails that really are the best trails. There’s always something to keep them from seeming redundant. In the case of the Hole-in-the-Wall trail, part of my love of it is pure convenience – I can tumble out the door and be walking along the trail in 5 minutes, remote, away from anybody, in the quiet of the trees. Part of it is nostalgia, memories, and the sheer beauty of this region. The Hole-in-the-Wall road winds along through ravines and low places, often overlooking or crossing an old nameless, boulder-strewn creekbed that eventually joins up with Battle Creek. This has been a favorite trail since I was a kid – because Hole-in-the-Wall has always been a favorite destination. I’ve written about Hole-in-the-Wall a handful of times before, that it is the site of an old mining camp, that the miners diverted Battle Creek straight through a ridge, creating what we now know as Hole-in-the-Wall. Something about this place is comforting to me, and not long goes by before I get the hunger to hike to it, the same familiar trail, the same trees and rocks and sandy, rocky streambeds. Since I am leaving the country at the end of this week for a month, I wanted to hike to Hole-in-the-Wall again. Mom and Dad were the only ones home, and they agreed to tag along. Off we went, with both of the dogs tearing around, having the time of their lives.
IMG_7859eWe were chatting, watching for fossils and flowers and critters, talking to the dogs casually. I had been down in the creekbed looking for fossils and had just come back onto the trail. Opal, in her play and curiosity, headed down the bank, underneath a still-flowering golden currant bush. We called to her and continued walking, and Mom mused, “I wonder if we’ll lose any dogs to snakebite this summer.” It is just something you think about when you live in rattlesnake country, and this is the time of year they start showing up. Talk about a well-timed comment. No sooner had those words left Mom’s lips, than that unmistakable sound burst from underneath the currant bush – a rattlesnake. The sound is one of those you never forget, unless, of course, you’re my Dad and you can’t hear the snake’s rattle, which is a little unnerving. Well, Opal came tearing up the bank around the other side of the currant bush, apparently unhurt (“Good,” I’m thinking. “How in the world would I have broken the news to Sarah?”). Both dogs were immediately captivated by the strange sound, and then immediately got yelled at.  Trixie, the silly thing, actually responded to verbal commands and getting swatted in the face with a ballcap, which surprised me, since I always assumed Trixie’s first rattlesnake would also be her last. In the next few chaotic seconds we got the dogs by the collars and suddenly felt a little calmer.
IMG_7763eIt’s no fun hearing the snake but not being able to see it. Once the dogs were under control, we got a good look at the rattler, and he was a big one, hunkered down beneath the currant bush in a shaded spot. I honestly have no idea how Opal didn’t get bitten, except to say that God didn’t let her get bitten. Where the snake was coiled was right where Opal had jumped. He was thick and angry-looking, and we watched him for a couple of minutes before continuing our hike, with the dogs leashed this time. Once you see one rattlesnake at such close quarters, suddenly you’re convinced there are snakes in every clump of tall grass, under every fallen log, and in every pile of rocks. A little irrational, but that’s just what happens. Just like when you find one tick, suddenly you’re crawling with imaginary ticks.
IMG_7783eIMG_7842eWe made it to Hole-in-the-Wall without meeting anymore snakes, and enjoyed the flora in the meadow  there. Particularly the Missouri pincushion cactus. We found a whole colony, with little families of cacti all growing in groups, and some beautiful solitary ones with picture-perfect blossoms. Shades of yellow to shades of peach, glimmering and gleaming in the sun. I had never seen so many.
IMG_7797eThere was plenty of dame’s rocket, violet woodsorrel, larkspur and larkspur violets, and even a groundplum milkvetch with its cute little fruits. On the way back, we checked under that same golden currant bush for Mr. Rattlesnake. We tossed a few rocks down the bank into the bush to see if we could stir him up a little bit. He had moved on. Smart snake.

Sometimes it really is the old trails that are the best. Because they’re the ones with all the many, many memories. And I’m really glad we still have our dogs.

Springtime Treasures

The Black Hills are full to bursting of treasure, if one knows where to search for it. I waited so eagerly for the pasque flowers to bloom, springtime’s first flowers, and they finally have. What a delight! They are such ephemeral and elusive flowers, springing up while winter still lingers in the Hills, and fading again in a breath – Perhaps that is some of the excitement surrounding these little flowers. There is a sense of urgency in the hunt.  The silk-like hairs sparkled on stem and petal, and the flowers nodded in the breeze, glimmering like stained glass in the sunlight on their carpet of pine needles. We found them up at Buzzard’s Roost this morning, scarce along the trail but plentiful as we neared the lookout. Amazing how these delicate plants can establish themselves so firmly on the rocky, barren hillsides, fighting their way to the sunlight. IMG_4507eIMG_4620eIMG_4575eIMG_4499eIMG_4519eIMG_4568eI could have taken pictures of the little things for hours.