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.
Pussytoes, 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!
Everything was golden. The honeyed air was rich and fragrant, sweet with pine and warm earth. The afternoon sunlight filtering through the trees had that mystic quality of springtime, painting everything in vivid color, gilding the greens, the reds, the pinks, the browns, glinting from the gravel and garnets along the jeep trail, sparkling in spiders’ webs, shimmering on the wings of the swallowtails and bees and moths busy drinking the flowers of the golden currant.
The busyness and life of these industrious pollinators was mesmerizing – In and out and around and about they went, back and forth through the golden glow of the currant bush. Moths, like tiny hummingbirds, sipped daintily. Bees bumbled from flower to flower. Swallowtails hung like jeweled pendants from the drooping branches. The lazy droning of the bees blended with the chirruping of crickets and the whir and whiz of grasshoppers in their haphazard flight. Birds twiddled their tunes, trying to keep out of sight in the thick trees and undergrowth.
The path was abundantly scattered with wildflowers. Hardy larkspur violets and longspur violets and low larkspur and wild strawberry, and finally the columbine, the belle of the flowering woods. Fleabane, like an innocent child with smiling face, grew saucily in the sunny trail.
Around one of my favorite bends in the trail stands a grove of aspen and birch, tall and pale under the shadow of a steep pine- and moss-covered hillside. As I came down the hill into that hollow, the trees were a brilliant, luminous green, the smooth leaves winking and twinkling a golden green.
It was a golden afternoon.
This understated flower was just beginning to bloom along the trail at Buzzard’s Roost, and at first I didn’t even recognize it as a flower. The petals were barely open and looked almost like still-growing leaves. I snapped a picture anyway, so I could check its identification and, sure enough, it was the sulfur paintbrush. What variety God has designed into His Creation!
Wildflower hunting is as good as a treasure hunt. Actually, better. Wildflowers aren’t yet taxed. For years, I’ve been fascinated by wildflowers, particularly by the violet family. The intricacies of the violet family, the variety, the color. I find them enchanting. Back in Illinois, I was thrilled to discover that we had three different species of violets in our backyard, and I looked for others when we went hiking. Now in the Black Hills, there are yet new ones to discover and marvel at! A few days ago, I stumbled across a larkspur violet – I had never found one before, and wasn’t sure I’d see another this spring, so I snapped away with my long lens, even though I knew it was pointless – I was right. It was pointless. Half an hour later, I found another cluster and made a mental note to come back on my next day off with my shorter lens.
This morning, Dad and I went on a walk along the Hole-in-the-Wall trail, and there along the path was a larkspur violet couple. Of course, I’d left my camera at home, since it was cloudy. Flowers really do photograph the best in bright sunlight, so that the transparency of their petals is captured. Once again, I made a mental note. When it warmed up a little later in the day, I headed out again, armed with my camera and correct lens, intent on photographing my larkspur violet, starting with the one along Hole-in-the-Wall trail. It had been cloudy all day, and rather windy. But no sooner had I started on the trail than the cloud cover broke, illuminating little families of darkthroat shootingstar, not-yet-bloomed columbine, and the delicate cups of the lanceleaf bluebell.
My larkspur violet was waiting where I left it. The delicate striping of the throat, the satiny hairs, the shimmering petals are all typical of violets, but the leaves are what set this violet apart. Most violets have solid heart-shaped leaves, while the larkspur violet, also known as the prairie violet or birdfoot violet, has divided leaves. Because of that characteristic, this little beauty can’t be misidentified.
Satisfied with the proof of my find, I headed back down the trail. It was warm, in spite of the breeze. A gorgeous day. The whole landscape was afire with the colors brought by the recent rain. The emerald greens, the deep fuchsia of shootingstars, the blues and pinks and purples of bluebells, the glinting white and gold of wild strawberries and starry false Solomon’s seal. I was almost home when a flicker of purple caught my eye. Almost back at home, growing unobtrusively on a pineneedle-covered bank was another larkspur violet. And there was another. And another. A whole little colony of them.
It was a successful hunt.
This time of year is when the wildflower world really comes to life in the Hills. Hiking in a ravine near Ghost Canyon Road today, winsome little spring flowers were lurking in the shadows beneath trees and on the shaded sides of the ravine. The shade was pleasant and cool, the sun was golden and becoming harsh, and the pines reached their gnarled limbs towards the blue heavens. Spring’s first wildflowers are diminutive and unassuming – Later come the flashy milkweeds and Joe Pye weed and sunflowers, flowers that aren’t content to simply be. But spring’s first flowers are the epitome of serenity.
Like pale butterflies sunning themselves, the star lilies bloomed on the warm, fragrant, open hillsides, understated, clinging close to the dusty earth. Leaving the sunny hillsides behind, we wended our way through brush that will soon be too thick to walk through, snagging spiderwebs and burdock and wayward grasshoppers.
Tucked back under dead tree limbs, the shootingstars hid away in the ferns and grasses, almost unnoticeable in spite of their bold color. The flowers nodded on their long stalks, swaying in the summery breeze, almost twinkling in the scattered sunlight.
Blue-eyed grass is a favorite of mine, to see it peeking up shyly, sparkling here and there in the sunlit places like a deep blue gem. Mankind just can’t craft the kind of beauty that God scatters liberally through His wonderful Creation.
The air was heavy today with the dusty, sagey, piney scent belongs to the Black Hills. The sunlight wakes it up, just like it wakes up the wildflowers in time for spring! My heart will always quicken when I catch a glimpse of yet another of my botanical favorites, or a new one I haven’t yet gotten to know. Over the last year, these flowers have become like friends, a special part of this special place I now call home.
The lovely state flower of South Dakota.