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.

 

Botanical | Harebells

Back in the early 1900s, there was a watercolor artist named Cicely Mary Barker, a contemporary of Beatrix Potter and published by the same publishers who worked with Miss Potter, who wrote poetry and painted pictures of “flower fairies.” I remember poring over a volume of her poetry and exquisite paintings in my piano teacher’s house, during my sister Jessica’s piano lessons. Each of Cicely’s fairies personified a specific flower, and the Harebell Fairy comes to mind with clarity: standing on tip-toe, dressed in a gown that resembles the cup of the harebell, holding a slender stem in her hand with the blossom swaying over her head.Perhaps that book of Flower Fairies is where some of my love of wildflowers comes from. About six years ago, I found a bargain priced set of Cicely’s books (the complete poetry and paintings, I believe), hard-bound and beautifully printed. It took about two minutes to decide to add them to my library.HarebellThe harebell has to be one of my favorite summer flowers. I found this little cluster up in a meadow on the eastern side of the property.

Laura Elizabeth

 

Botanical | Coneflower Color Morphs

Prairie coneflowers are a common sight this time of year in meadows and along roadsides. Cheery yellow blossoms with a green and brown cone center grace the Hills abundantly. They’re humble little flowers, and an indication that summer is indeed here!
Prairie ConeflowerAbout a week and a half ago, however, I noticed a strange one blooming up near our mailbox along Highway 40 – Instead of sunny yellow, the petals were daubed with a beautiful crimson. Since first noticing the single mutant flower, the rest of the plant has flowered, producing more color morph flowers! What a fun find. When it re-seeds or the plant comes back next summer, I wonder if the color variation will still be present!
Coneflower Color MorphEven “accidents” in God’s Creation can be so beautiful!

Laura Elizabeth

Botanical | Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed susans and milkweed mean that summer is here! Spotted these on the shores of Lakota Lake this afternoon.UntitledThe first of the summer season.

Laura Elizabeth

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Botanical | Rock Clematis

These quirky little blossoms bloomed all along the rim of Hell’s Canyon, some of them still closed, others in full bloom.rock clematis mediumWhile most of them were blooming in the earth, we did find a clump of them growing in the cleft of a rock.

Laura Elizabeth