Farewell To Spring: Guest Blog by Nick Rhodehamel

Dawn is breaking now by 5:30 on California’s central coast. I like to see the day start from high up in the hills, and don’t like the heat of the Sun, so I try to get my walking done early. [Photo 1: Ceanothus spinosus flower at dawn.] Besides I have children to send off to school and work to do. I go walking maybe 6 days a week. But this early light is new to me. Back in December, I walked by the light of a headlamp for much of the hour and a half or two hours that I was out.

Photo 1

Walking in dark canyons with sometimes rushing water and sometimes fog or mist can be unnerving. Deep down people are afraid of the dark. I am. It’s mainly the unknown, what lurks that cannot be seen in the darkness—our own fears. The Buddhists tap into fear by spending nights alone in the charnel grounds where people are cremated to appreciate the transience of life perhaps or to shock themselves to illumination.

I’m not afraid of ghosts; the face of my fear is large predators (mostly four legged, the two-legged ones less so). Really, I know there’s far more real danger in stumbling off a precipice. But in conversation, someone’s wife’s friend has always spotted a mountain lion while she was hiking; I have yet to meet anyone who has actually seen one for herself. But it must happen. And people are indeed attacked. The knowledge of the possibility is enough to give substance to the fear. But statistically I know too that the chances of being attacked by a mountain lion rival winning PowerBall or being hit by a meteor—it doesn’t happen.

The fear lives, though, and sometimes when my pack rubs against a branch or my footstep sounds more hollow than I expect, I turn off my light and stand motionless and listen, or I’ll turn to look behind me to see if I’m being followed. I know it’s silly and that I’ll find nothing, but I know also that a mountain lion would dispatch me before I knew it had happened. A bright flash of light deep behind the eyes as my neck snapped would be all.

French geomorphologist and ethnologist Jean Malaurie recounts hunting with Inuits in winter in western Greenland up by Elsmere Island before the U.S. airbase at Thule was built in 1950. The Inuits could see white-furred fox against the white snow in the dark of the moon well enough to shoot them. As far as Malaurie was concerned, the Inuits could see in the dark. I cannot and, at least part of the year, must live with the dark if I want to walk early. And, to be truthful, I love the dark; when I first see that the days are getting longer and the nights less, I feel a sharp pang of regret. Still, as the light of day breaks, I’m relieved. The canyons are just canyons and the chaparral is just itself. Usually, I’m high above the canyons by that time anyway. [Photo 2: Hills in early morning. Photo 3: High up. Photo 4: Looking down.]

Photo 2

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These walks get me up in the morning and give me a chance to see the sequence of seasons through the lives of the plants in this area. Sometimes I take pictures.

Just now spring seems to me to be ended, but the colorfully named farewell-to-spring (Clarkia bottae) is pretty much at its peak. It is found in the chaparral where I walk along the margins of washes in somewhat protected spots. [Photos 5,6,7,8: Farewell-to-spring.]

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Some plants like large-flowered phacelia (Phacelia grandeflora) and Frémont’s death camus (Zigadenus fremontii) that in mid-February were just beginning to flower are now looking a little shabby. [Photo 9,10: Large-flowered phacelia. Photos 11,12: Frémont’s death camus. ]

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The California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) that until the last week looked as bright as ever is fading as the remnants of the last rains evaporate from the surface soil. Photo 13: California poppy.]

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And the crimson pitcher sage (Salvia spathacea) that also began flowering in mid-February looks stately in its maturity [Photo 14: Young crimson pitcher sage. Photo 15: Mature crimson pitcher sage.]

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An invasive, naturalized bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) aggressively colonizes burn areas, where shrubs such as toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) that are adapted to periodic wildfires grow up from rootstocks and begin to flower once again. [Photo 16: Bindweed close up. Photo 17: Bindweed covering a hillside. Photo 18: Toyon flower buds.]

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Bush or sticky monkey flower (Mimulus aurantiacus) has begun to flower in the last few weeks. These are orange colored flowers that are supposed to look like grinning monkeys (I’m not sure I see it), and they attract hummingbirds. The genus name comes from the same root as that for the ancient Greek theater tradition in which everyday occurrences were extemporaneously mimicked (think mime). I see monkey flowers in a range of habitats from moist sheltered locations to shalely dry ones. [Photo 19,20: Bush monkey flower.] Mimulus is a big genus with lots of showy flowered plants. In this climate, they make good garden plants too.

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Back down in the canyons, canyon sunflower (Venegasia carpesioides) grows; it’s also found in moist, sheltered or north-facing spots higher up, generally below 3000 feet. It seems to flower virtually all year long, looking in January only somewhat duller than now. Another plant found ubiquitously (in canyons and chaparral) is poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum). It grows well almost everywhere I see it, and I think it is far more vigorous than its eastern cousin poison ivy (T. radicans). [Photo 21,22,23.]

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I’m usually hurrying, often partially running, by the time I get down to the canyons again. In the morning light, they’re lovely and cool, and there’s nothing unnerving about them [Photo 24: Water fall. Photo 25: Canyon floor at stream crossing.]

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Enjoy the rest of spring.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 4th, 2011 at 9:22 am and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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30 Responses to “Farewell To Spring: Guest Blog by Nick Rhodehamel”

  1. Ellie said:

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful musings!

    • Nick said:

      Dear Ellie,

      You’re quite welcome. Glad you liked it.

  2. Anne Truesdale said:

    Thank you for that Spring lift. It was exquisite, and very much what one would expect from Heronswood

    • Nick said:

      Dear Anne,

      Thank you for your kind words and your faith in Heronswood Nursery.

  3. Mary Kaye said:

    Thank you so much for this. I really enjoyed it.

    • Nick said:

      Dear Mary Kaye,

      You’re quite welcome. Glad you liked it.

  4. MulchMaid said:

    What a gorgeous and refreshing walk. Thank you for taking us along today.

    • Nick said:

      Thank you, MulchMaid. Thanks for reading and glad to have you along.

  5. Pretty amazing.Texas spring is over and Washington’s is just beginning.

    • Nick said:

      Hi Patricia,

      Nice to hear from you; hope all is well. Nice to have two springs.

  6. Kim said:

    Hey Nick,
    Thanks so much for sharing your pictures with us,just love them. You said it seems your Spring is leaving we ours up here in Erie, PA is trying to start. The temps go up and down we have had spring flowers and trees bloom but the pollen has been very low b/c of all the rain, so no one is complaining about that,lol. Again thanks for the pictures, God Bless.

    • Nick said:

      Dear Kim,

      I love the kind of spring you seem to be having. In the Upper Midwest (where I’m currently not residing as evidenced by the photos), our springs progress as you’re describing in fits and starts. Then, after one weekend, summer has arrived. Glad you liked the photos; please stop by again.

  7. Earl Rodier said:

    Absolutly loved the photo’s. What a wonderful addition to my sites.

    • Nick said:

      Dear Earl,

      Thanks for reading and please logon again.

  8. aldinha said:

    I almost didn’t read this for lack of time. But, I’m so glad I did. I thoroughly enjoyed Nick’s perspective on his early morning walks from the other side of the country…..and the incredible sights are breathtaking.

    • Nick said:

      Dear Aldinha,

      Thanks for your kind words and thanks for posting.

  9. Virlys Moller said:

    Lovely to accompany you on your springtime walks through nature’s flora. Thanks for sharing your perspective and photos.

    • Nick said:

      Thank you, Virlys. Thanks for reading and glad to have you along.

  10. gardenbug said:

    This makes me homesick. Thanks for the lovely photos.

    • Nick said:

      Dear Gardenbug,

      It’s a compliment that the photos had that effect on you. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Pat said:

    Beautiful photos and travelog. Thanks for sharing!

    • Nick said:

      Dear Pat,

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  12. James Golden said:

    Really enjoyed this rather reverential post. Quite moving–fear of the dark, walking in the dark hills, danger, however small, of mountain lions, daybreak, the plants. Great photos too!

    • Nick said:

      Hi James,

      Nice to hear from you. Glad you enjoyed the piece. I hope to see you at the Fordhook Open Houses.

  13. Sue Wallace said:

    Thanks very much- this reminds me of my early adolescence and the wildflowers my friends and I so greatly enjoyed playing on the yet undeveloped hills just east of San Diego – a wonderful time to be young! I especially remember a little golden wild violet that smelled of ripe peaches – which I hope wasn’t bulldozed into extinction!

  14. Rosalie Bier said:

    Thanks so much for the great photos. Apparently I live in your area, have seen many of the blooms you have photographed, and am glad to have them identified.

    • Nick said:

      Dear Rosalie,

      I am glad you liked the photos and found them useful. Thanks much for writing in.

  15. Lin said:

    This is amazing. I was purusing the website – originally looking for a good blower/vac for my yard, and I don’t even know how I found my way here in 5 minutes, but I am glad I did. You are blogging the way I’d love to blog. Pretty pictures, impeccable wording, and quite the adventuresome outdoors person. Thank you. Lin

    • Nick said:

      Dear Lin,

      Thanks much for the words of encouragement. I’m glad you found the blog. Please come back.

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