Slow Rain and Relics

The sun and blue sky of Sunday morning had turned into lowering clouds. The sound of raindrops began to hush around us as we followed an old forest service road towards our destination. Before long at all, everyone else was far ahead and out of sight, while I was hunkered down in the wet grass and pine needles taking pictures of spring’s first flowers. What sweetness! We had temperatures in the 40s, and those of us who had properly layered were plenty warm, even with the gentle rain.IMG_5097eWe were hiking in an area of past burn, south and east of Pringle a couple of miles. Before the trail wove down into a valley, distant hilltops could be seen glowing gently under the grey sky, and even scattered blue sky could be seen off to the south east. We saw ample evidence of elk, but not a glimpse of the majestic creatures themselves. No deer, few birds – It was quiet out in the woods. But in amongst the fallen trees and blackened stumps, the purple of pasque flowers could be seen. Life from death. Beauty from ashes. In areas of previous devastating fire, new life springs up with determination.IMG_5059eThe trail took us to the historical remains we had hoped to find. Old foundations, remnants of walls and chimneys, a water pump, a tumbled-in root cellar, sparkling pieces of colored glass, shards of rusted metal, miscellaneous kitchen items, ancient stoves, door knobs, coffee cans – All relics of the homestead or town site that once stood there and the lives that had previously been lived there. We don’t know its name, or who lived there, or whom they knew, or what they did, or where they came from, but someone had a life in that beautiful little valley. What will I leave behind when I’m gone? It is an interesting thought.IMG_5113eIMG_5105eThe raindrops plinked and pattered on a heap of twisted metal, sounding like the rush of a distant, faraway stream. We poked around in the ruins, and could have spent a lot longer there. We only left reluctantly when we figured we should catch up with the rest of the group, who had already gone back to the truck to keep from getting wetter. IMG_5132eIMG_5129The rain picked up, but that hardly mattered. It is spring, and rain is expected! Sarah pointed out how vivid the colors are in the rain, and she is right. It’s as if the rain washes away a layer of dust, leaving everything clean and fresh with the color plainly seen.IMG_5146eIMG_5173eTime and again we extend our Sunday fellowship through the afternoon with hiking. And time and again, I think how perfect a way that is to end a Sunday. Spending time in God’s glorious creation is refreshing any day of the week, but there is something fitting about it on a Sunday – it seems to me that we are in a way extending the sanctuary of worship into the broader realm of His created handiwork. His handiwork and His attributes are proclaimed in the beauty of the landscape, the intricacies of flowers and plant and animal life, the perfect way this earth holds together and flourishes year after year and century after century. When we marvel at and revel in the natural world, we are marveling at and reveling in the works of God’s hands. What a privilege. IMG_5174eWe headed home in a slow drizzle and stopped at Three Forks to get coffee. Beautiful weather. A beautiful day.

 

Happy April!

How suddenly the winter retreats peacefully into the shadows, places where the snow lingers a little longer and the chill hovers, while springtime appears with vigor and color and sweetness. Everywhere, new life is appearing. Tiny calves speckle the pastures, birds are singing lustily, and branches and twigs are showing green. Underfoot, flower life is waking, spreading their petals to the sunlight, drinking in the rain, little gems in the layers of pine needles and dead grass. First is the pasque, and then the rest follow.
IMG_5006eI’m reminded of these verses from Song of Solomon:

The flowers appear in the earth: the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.”

The signs of spring are plainly written. We smell the clean, rain-washed air, hear the droplets pattering on the roof, feel them on our faces, hear the birds singing in the trees. We have the pasque flowers on the sunlit hills. Flocks of sandhill cranes in the sky mark the beginning of April, a new sight for me. Spring is here.

Happy April!

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.

 

Spring’s First Wildflowers

It sometimes seems that Springtime has arrived at the door but hesitates to enter. The door is open and fresh breezes blow in, bringing the fragrance of the new season, but Spring just waits outside, biding her time.
IMG_4297In spite of the winter weather we’ve had (interspersed with warmer days), we know spring has arrived when the pasqueflower finally decides to bloom. Dad and I took a picnic lunch over to Falling Rock today, where I had heard rumours of pasques beginning their blooming. Sure enough, we found them. Not many, although I’m sure there were many more, but before we could comb the area above the canyon more thoroughly, a brisk cloudburst opened up and didn’t seem likely to quit anytime soon! We left before we could get soaked. IMG_4272eI don’t know what it is about the little flowers that is so enchanting – Perhaps it is their evasive, reticent nature, and how entirely ephemeral they are. They spring up as joyous heralds of Springtime, and fade again as quickly. They are like little gems, and finding one is a delightful thrill! I am looking forward to hiking more this weekend, and finding more of these glorious jewels. IMG_4284eGod’s Creation wonders never cease to amaze me. The first wildflowers of the year.

Gifts of Pasque Flowers

Prairie crocus. Wind flower. Pasque flower. Meadow anemone. The many names of our state flower are almost as exquisite as the diminutive tundra flower itself. Springing up in the earliest weeks of the spring, or even the latest weeks of winter, sometimes emerging to a world still covered in snow, these hardy little plants survive both blight of frost and chilling wind, covered in their silvery protective coat of fur.
IMG_8775They’re hardly worth remarking on before they blossom – They have no glorious foliage of glistening green, or beautiful petaled buds waiting to burst open. They cling close to the earth, almost invisible in their beds of pine needles and dead grasses. Yet there is beauty there, a strange, unearthly sort of beauty, and they hold in their heart the purple bud, waiting for the sun and the little bit of warmth. Pasque flowerFinally the color is revealed, like opening one’s hands to glimpse the treasure held inside. Hunting for pasque flowers yesterday, the barely-waking ones nearly drove me crazy in anticipation of finding a fully-open, wide awake one. As enchanting as the unopen flowers are, how much better to find one in the prime of its blooming! IMG_8857We stumbled across a single patch of the wind flowers yesterday, in a little grassy area beneath some low-growing pines and junipers, near the rim of the Box Canyon. We saw a few there a week ago, without open blossoms, but something must have happened in the air in the last week. Some spell of springtime must have been cast.
Pasque flowerTheir dainty cups of lavender, velvety on the outside but dark-veined and satin smooth on the inside, opened cheerily to the sunshine. Although there were no spreading patches of the flowers, they did seem to like this one area. We had walked a long ways without seeing any – What was special about this one little grove of trees? As soon as one was found, it seemed the flowers were springing up all over, every time we turned around. Beneath this bush, and that tree, and hidden in the clump of grass over there. 
Pasque and beeEarly pollinators were already hard at work, burying themselves in the yellow centers, going from flower to flower, busy and industrious, ignoring the human interruption.
Pasque flowerAnd even fading, even when a few of their petals had fallen, there was still a loveliness, subtle and understated.

These flowers are one of the many treasures of nature that God has so carefully placed on this earth for our enjoyment and His glory – And I truly believe He means for us to enjoy them. Yet they are also some of the flowers most able to be overlooked, springing up in the still-wintry or too-early springtime, springing up and fading fast, or nibbled away by wildlife, or crushed underfoot. Unless one is looking for them, they won’t be noticed. And it makes me think that oftentimes that is how God’s personal gifts to us are, those things He does specifically in our lives to bless us and draw us to Himself. We don’t notice them in time, or we don’t notice them at all. They get choked out by the cares of life, trampled in the busyness, they wilt in the withering glare of our own selfish worries, they die unnoticed and unappreciated. We take those blessings for granted, and miss out on the greater blessing of recognizing them as being from the hand of God.

Laura Elizabeth

Saturday Adventures

The Pringle PlaceThe winds sound different in the pines. They hum and murmur and sing in the needles and in the sun-warmed grass, sweeping clouds from horizon to horizon, drying the earth and warming the earth and waking up all the little messengers of springtime. The earth feels different in the springtime, ready to burst with life, like a person holding back mirth, or like someone with a delightful secret. Tiny plants push through the red soil, little barrel cacti and the elusive pasque flower and star lilies not yet bloomed.

IMG_8921Any excuse to get down to the Pringle place is a good one for me, and today’s excuse was that my cousin Ben was down in Pringle with my aunt and uncle, and I was already going to be in Custer this morning, which is more than halfway there. So after cleaning the church, Roy and I drove down to Pringle – I, armed with my camera, Roy armed with various muskets and pistols – and picked up Ben for a hike.  We couldn’t have picked a better day than the one our Heavenly Father had picked for us.

IMG_8909Our hiking took us along Box Canyon, and down west of the old stage stop, through red gullies and golden meadows, in and out of deep-cut ravines, over and under barbed wire fencing, looking at the favorite places and searching out new. We stumbled across the remains of an ancient log cabin from the homesteading days, found a piece of a rusty old license plate from 1922 and an old stove lid, and picked up a rusted steel trap that must have washed down the gully, or been dragged there.

All the little early wildflowers are beginning to bloom, giving me fresh subjects to capture and identify, from little phlox-like flowers growing low to the red earth, to scrubby yellow complex flowers with foliage that smelled like celery, to a yellow succulent-like flower growing all by itself on a little hillside.
IMG_8897And yes, we found the pasque flowers today! A week ago down on the Pringle place, the little wind flowers were waking up, though were not yet awake, but today they were in beautiful bloom, tucked beneath scrubby pines, nestled down deep in last summer’s grasses.  Whimsical nodding blossoms of palest purple, covered with their coats of silver fur, blending in and almost invisible, but unmistakable. Pasque flowerGrasshoppers chirruped. Mountain bluebirds flickered like blue flames as they lighted on fence posts and fence wire and darted here and there. The junipers and pines were spicy in the warm air, the sky was brilliant and dappled with clouds, the wind was sweet and restless, and the rocks were cool to the touch. Lichens crusted the red stone, quartz sparkled dazzlingly, and the day was perfect.

IMG_8931We picnicked on the tailgate of Roy’s pickup, and when we were done hiking, we did some target shooting. “Shooting makes a bad day good and a good day better,” Roy said. Though, it hardly needed improving – Friends and family, God’s good and glorious creation, a sturdy camera, a picnic in the open air, and the sight of a small herd of antelope hightailing it across the prairie – And, yes, firing a few rounds at some makeshift targets.

A good day. A very good day.

Laura Elizabeth