Wildflowers of Northern California
The forests surrounding the town of Alderpoint, California, were a magical place for me to escape to when I was a child.
Even now, I return to the memories I have of that place. Whenever I do, I think of my escapes to the forest during the various seasons of the year. With the exception of Winter, there were beautiful wildflowers that came with each.
In the Spring, I would travel out Steelhead Road and head up into the hills behind the town garbage dump. The forest in this area was a mixed deciduous wood, made up mostly of oak, manzanita, pepperwood and madrone, with a scattering of Douglas fir. In this wood, there were several flowers that I would always search for in the Spring. They are the buttercup, cat's ear flower, wild violet, mariposa lily and the cream fawn lily.
Out beyond this wood was a beautiful meadow that overlooked an artificial pond that had been used in decades past for a lumber milling operation. In those days, it was filled with the rusted derelicts of trucks and cars from the mid twentieth century. Sometimes, I would walk around the giant pond, capturing a glimpse of the rusting hulks. I would imagine them as moth-balled ships, anchored to the dock in a scrapyard, awaiting recycling. After daydreaming over the rusting hulks in the pond, I would return to the meadow where I would lay out in the grass, searching for mariposa lilies. The other flowers preferred some measure of shade, so I would always look for them as I walked through the wood.
In the Summer, other beauties would make their way to this wood an field. The indian paintbrush with it's bright red and orange varieties would point the way out Steelhead Road on my way to the wood. Along a particularly shady section of Steelhead there was an embankment that became the home of beautiful wood fern and the western columbine with its red, orange, and yellow blooms. It was during the summer months that I would also find purple iris, shooting stars, the firecracker flower, and the yellow lantern. With the exception of the iris, the other flowers complimented the season with their patriotic parity to light and celebration, for I would always see them in the weeks leading and following Independence Day.
In the Fall, I would know that summer was coming to an end with the last waves of foxglove and wild iris. Sometimes, I'd even catch a glimpse of farewell-to-spring, a flower that usually blooms in the mid to later summer months.
As I think about these flowers, I am also recalling their scent. Only a few of them, the yellow lantern and violets come to mind, had any memorable scent. Most of these flowers were very showy. There were two flowers that had a very distinct scent. One, the western fairy slipper, smelled like Tide laundry detergent. A pleasant scent, to be sure. I didn't recall this one because it grew deep in the Douglas fir forests where I didn't spend much time.
There was another flower, I'm recalling just now, a sticky cousin to the buttercup that I only encountered a handful of times as a child. It has the scent of pure sunshine. There is no other way of describing it other than to say if the sun were instantly transformed into a sugary sweet smell, this flower would be its carrier. When one picked this flower, it adhered to the hand as a sticky substance covered parts of the stem and flower. I say it looked like the buttercup because it's flowers looked similar. Unlike the yellow buttercup, this flower had white petals tinged with a touch of yellow.
These flowers were my friends. I would look for them, welcoming them to the world with each season.
As an adult, I remember all of them in my mind. When I visit California, I am often there during times of the year when these flowers are not in bloom. Fortunately, I can return to them at any time, in my mind. It's March. If I were in the wood behind the town dump, I would be looking for my Spring friends.
I am sure they are there, in the partial shade of the woods. And also out in the meadow, where I am imagining laying in the tall grass, next to a mariposa lily, basking in the sunshine of a beautiful Northern California spring day in southern Humboldt County, just outside a little town called Alderpoint.