Tag Archives: Wildflowers

Spring Inspiration

Spring is almost upon us. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Vernal Equinox will officially occur Saturday, March 20, at 17:32 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). This corresponds to 1:30 pm, Eastern Daylight Time, and 10:30 am on the West Coast.

During the twice-yearly Equinox,  the tilt of the Earth’s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun, and the Sun is vertically above a point on the Equator. (The name “equinox” comes from the Latin for the words “equal” and “night — on these days night and day are approximately the same length.)

In my neck of the woods, the sun has begun to shine warmly and flowers have shot up above ground. Here’s hoping for a pretty, play-filled spring where you are.

As always, at times of seasonal change, I turn to the haiku poets to help give gentle expression to the turning of the year.

Now wild geese return …
What draws them
Crying, crying
All the long dark night?

-Roka

From my tiny roof
Smooth … Soft …
Still-White Snow
Melts in Melody

-Issa

Good morning, sparrow …
Writing on my
clean veranda
with your dewy feet

-Shiki

Opening thin arms …
A pink peony
Big as this!
Said my bitty girl

-Issa

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

A Walk in Nearby Woods

I last posted about the treehouse we built for my daughter in the redwoods near our house. It’s a lovely spot and, in addition to being a great place to relax beneath the trees, one of its bonuses is that, once you’re in it, the surrounding forest opens up to you. Our family recently took a little walk through it, lured by the beauty of the shafts of sunlight that beamed through the tree branches and by the call of owls — perhaps the same ones who spent part of last summer living in a tree close to our house.

We walked on the forest floor, which was soft with needles, leaves, mud and duff. We came upon these whimsical Trilliums (also called Wake Robins), an early spring wildflower that proliferates in the shade.

Forget-me-nots are another sweet shade-loving flower. Our property will be blanketed with them soon.

Three-cornered leeks (wild onions) have a lovely bell-shaped flower and a distinctly sharp spring smell.

We started to see owl droppings, and looked up to find our friends. We spotted their nest, high up in the redwoods. (We believe there to be at least one pair of Northern Spotted Owls, because we saw a male and a female last summer, and heard them now.) On the ground were owl pellets, the remains of small animals and plant material that the owls had eaten. We identified mouse bones. (I promise I will go up again and get a better picture!)

We looked up to see the owls’ nest.

While looking for the nest, we saw a basket high up in the trees. This is a very isolated spot and we were mystified as to how it could have gotten there. A person could have placed it there, but that’s not likely — it’s more than 50 feet up in a very isolated spot on private property. We wondered if the basket would be light enough for birds to have carried up, in the hopes of making a nest out of it.

After a while, the land opened up as we reached another path, which was sunnier.

Pretty yellow Goldfields were sprinkled along the path.

We saw Miner’s Lettuce, which of course we imagined generations of people before us — Native Americans, trailblazers, miners — eating. (We later learned that Miner’s Lettuce is appropriately named, and edible, but I remain very hesitant about grazing for food along the road.)

We circled around and came home, knowing that, with the weather turning warmer, and our newfound knowledge of the woods and path by our house, we would be back often.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Treehouse in the Woods

We recently built our daughter a treehouse nestled in the redwood trees by our house. She had long enjoyed a special stand of Cathedral Redwoods, which get their name by growing in a circle around a host stump or tree. This circle has about half a dozen trees, each about 150 feet tall.

But she needed a better way to get there – our land is extremely steep, and soft and slippery with needles, leaves, branches and, often, mud. There was no trail. Even if you were to make your way up on foot, chances are you’d slide back down on your bottom. This is what much of the land looks like. It’s shady redwood forest with lots of ferns and bay trees.

Being more visionary than handy, we called on some handy friends to help design and build a trail with a switchback, and then some stairs to get up the steepest part of the hill.

The trail is one that was already used by local deer and just had to be widened. (We’re hoping the deer appreciate it.)

The steps are made of copper-injected wood. We wanted something that would stand up to the weather in this damp spot. We also wanted a banister for safety.

The deck has a pier-and-post cement foundation, to make it sturdy and raise it above the forest floor.

The platform is close to our house but far enough away and in deep foliage, so that it feels private. It’s a great place to read and daydream, to the sounds of birds and frogs and, if it has rained hard enough, water running down a natural stream.

Anna is very happy there. She wants to decorate with prayer flags and chairs for friends (she says a sofa). When the rain stops we are going to hang this colorful, handwoven Mayan hammock that she picked out from a mother-daughter company called La Casa Mexicana.

We know the treehouse is going to get a lot of use. One of its great benefits, which we have already experienced, is that it gets us up into the land by our house, which we had been looking at but not walking on because of the steepness. It’s still steep past the treehouse, but not quite as much, and from there, the forest opens up. We took a walk through it the other day and found early spring wildflowers and all sorts of other things. I will tell you about them in my next post.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, La Casa Mexicana

Mom’s Gifts of Nature

Today would have been my mom, Bunnie’s, 77th birthday. She died four years ago after a long illness. We were close but our relationship was not without rocky patches. Since I began working for Children & Nature Network a couple of months ago, I can say without hesitation that my appreciation for her has grown. There hasn’t been a day when I haven’t thought about her influence on my enjoyment of nature and the gifts she gave me in that regard.

The gift of walking. My mom didn’t drive. In L.A., a place built especially for transportation by car. As a result, we walked everywhere when I was little. She walked with my brother and I to different parks and playgrounds, talking to us the whole time. She ran errands on foot (and then by bike when we were older), so that we had a sense of our place on the earth and in our community. We knew neighbors and shopkeepers and had a different kind of life than the kids who were driven places.

It helped that my parents had settled in Santa Monica, which they chose because it was (and is) a very walkable, livable place, with real streets where there are neighbor-serving businesses (this part has diminished over the years, as the businesses have largely gone upscale) and good public transportation. I rode the bus by myself at age 9. Pretty much everyone walked, biked, or bussed to and from school. I only recall a couple of rides to school ever, and those would have been early mornings in high school, when my dad would take me before he and Mom went to work.

I love to walk to this day. I enjoy the activity in itself, and a pace that allows you to engage with your surroundings and neighbors.

The gift of splashing in puddles. We didn’t have snow in Southern California, but we did get rain. My mom was not one to let the weather impede any plans. Dressed appropriately, in raincoats and boots, we were encouraged not only to walk in the rain but to enjoy it and to splash in the puddles. Her attitude was, “Who’s afraid of a little rain?” and I adapted it in junior high when I secretly looked down on my peers for using umbrellas. This seems a bit guerrilla now, but the spirit holds. To little kids, especially, rain is something to be enjoyed, not cowered from. And children’s bodies and clothes are meant for play.

The gift of summer camp. My mom was a Brooklyn girl, but her childhood memories from upstate New York’s Camp Guilford and Oxford had deeply imprinted on her. She talked lovingly of classic camp activities like archery and color wars. My parents worked summers; There were not a lot of family vacations. But what my brother and I did have was camp. I got to go to camp for nine summers, seven of them at Tumbleweed Day Camp, beginning incredibly enough when I was four.

I loved everything about Tumbleweed. It was in a gorgeous, special spot in the Santa Monica Mountains. Days began and ended by sitting by group in an amphitheater made of logs, singing folk songs. (I can still sing the camp and other songs.) I learned to swim there, and ride horses, and jump on a trampoline. We had cookouts and sleepouts and dress-up days. In the 70s we did modern dance to “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” while the boys played caroms. There were nature hikes. (I learned about poison oak and bee stings.) We cared for animals and made lanyards and paint-and-macaroni covered cigar boxes. There was one camp craft I loved so much that we started doing it at home, too — gathering items from nature and placing them in a paper cup, pouring resin over the items so that the whole hardened into a medallion, and then drilling a hole and stringing it to make a necklace.

Because I loved camp so much (can you tell?), I sent my own daughter to camp and sought the most classic, outdoor-oriented ones I could find. So far she has attended five years of JCC Day Camp and three years at Mountain Meadow Ranch in California’s Lassen County, and I believe her experiences have been formative.

The gift of independent exploration. There is no doubt some personality trait involved, but I got on that camp bus by myself at age 4, and it wasn’t even an issue. I also, from maybe age 5 or 6 on, regularly took my own “adventure walks” around our neighborhood — with age-appropriate limits, like working up to crossing streets. My mom championed and encouraged these. She understood the power of exploring on ones own, the serendipity of what might transpire. That I called these “adventure walks”, even though they were in a neighborhood of suburban apartments, speaks volumes. Any walk can be an adventure, given the right spirit and desire to find something new. To this day, I enjoy being in a new place, whether it’s an exotic location or somewhere a bit more close-by and mundane. I like to have map and resources, to consult if need be, but I’ll also let curiosity take me someplace if I’m pretty certain I can find my way back. (Warning: This does not always fit others’ comfort levels.)

The gift of quiet and observation in nature. I believe I inherited my mom’s mix of gregariousness and solitude. On the solitude end of the scale, she loved any walk in nature, in various seasons, usually with her twin-lens Rolleiflex camera. (A camera case is visible in the above picture of her, which was taken among cherry blossoms in Japan.) She would slowly stroll, pausing often to aim her camera and look down into its viewfinder to compose her shots. She took great pictures — in New England falls, of the plants in the park near our house, in the Japanese gardens she loved. As it does with me, I believe nature provided her a kind of meditation. The photography was an activity within it, and then a result. It was fun in itself but also a way to harness and focus observation. On my early walks, I took a notebook. I now often carry a notebook and a camera. And, if my family is any indication, I can take just as long as Mom did to compose and take a shot.

The gift of appreciation of nature. My mom’s appreciation for the beauty of nature was apparent in her photos, and also in our home. She had a beautiful rose garden, which she lovingly tended. Once a week, she’d pick roses from it and arrange them in vases that would be placed around our house. She seemed to spend hours arranging them to please her aesthetic eye. I have memories of the lovely rose smells, the snipped stems on our kitchen counter, and also of her being lost in the activity, as her slender fingers repositioned the open roses in their vases. Here, I believe I have her eye but lack some of her patience.

Come to think of it, I especially enjoy taking pictures of wildflowers. Perhaps wildflowers embody much of the above, and so much of the gifts available in nature: serendipity and discovery, solitary enjoyment, continuing wonder and delight, appreciation, and sheer beauty of form.

For all these gifts of and in nature, Thank You, Mom!


Wildflowers in Bloom

You could forgive us Bay Area types for going gaga for the outdoors in Spring. This is our time of year. The hills are green and spotted with wildflowers, so that they appear Alpine. The blue Bay glistens. The sun shining, the ferry boat captains sound their gleeful air horns, their vessels trailing streaks of foam.

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Come July, we’ll be bundled in woolens while people in less maritime summer climates swat mosquitoes from lawn chairs, the sun still hanging in the sky at Nine.

Think about it: One 4th of July, when my daughter was little, she was given a prize at a BBQ for “Best Red Coat”. A coat!

But for now we bask in the sun, walk the trails, plant our own gardens, and marvel at the special wildflowers that need no planting, but faithfully — seemingly magically — return … with perhaps a little pollination push from a bee, a hummingbird, or the wind. Fairy Lanterns, Lady’s Tresses — Their names can be as whimsical and fleeting as they are.

Recently, on Ring Mountain in Tiburon, I had the good fortune to spot some special flowers and enjoy world-class views, all while getting a little workout on nature’s stairmaster. Ring Mountain happens to be home to the Tiburon Mariposa Lily, which grows nowhere else on the planet, but which isn’t due out until about June. It also happens to have been largely saved from developers by Phyllis Ellman, among others. (Thank you!) The main trail bears Phyllis’ name.

trailhead

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Suncups greeted me on my path. They were once used to scent wine, but I couldn’t smell anything.

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I love the romantic, viney Vetch, as I do anything in the pea family.

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“If the weather you would tell, Look at the Scarlet Pimpernel.” So it is said of this “Poor Man’s Weather Glass,” whose flowers open in sun and close when rain nears.

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An Oakland Star Tulip sighting! Also known as the Oakland Mariposa Lily, it’s rare and stunning.

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After a little climb, I was greeted by Milk Maids.

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And pretty Blue-Eyed Grass, a cousin of the Iris.

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And, Ta da! Poppies, the California State Flower. Spanish explorers, spying carpets of them, called California “Tierra del Fuego”, “Land of Fire”. Native Americans used Poppies to treat headaches and insomnia. I read that they were also used as some sort of love charm, but since it’s illegal to pick wildflowers, I didn’t get the chance to test the Poppy mojo.

ringcapoppy

Shooting Stars are magical. According to my “Discover California Wildflowers” book, Native American women wore them in their hair for ceremonies.

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Another vintage plant, Mountain Pennyroyal, is still used to make a soothing tea, as it was for early settlers.

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Irises love nice shady spots and are often found in groups. They’re so majestic and a thrill to come upon. In Greek mythology, Iris, the messenger of the Gods, was personified by a rainbow.

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A Checker-Bloom: Another lovely sighting.

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After a climb, I was rewarded with green hills and this stunning view across Richardson Bay to San Francisco.

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600 feet up the mountain is Turtle Rock, a huge metamorphic boulder that was once on the ocean floor. I touched it to feel its history.

ringturtlerock

Some of the white serpentine rock on Ring Mountain is over 165 million years old and originated deep in the Earth’s mantle. The area is a rich geologic diary.

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Looking across the fields into the network of paths put me in mind of the area’s Rancho past. Until it became Open Space (and narrowly averted development), Ring Mountain was owned by the first official Land Grantee in Marin, John Reed, and his generations of descendants. Cattle grazed on beautiful ranch land.
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I drank in the view of Mt. Tamalpais and the Gold Field-dotted hills. It was hard to leave.

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A Smattering of Gold Fields and Poppies.

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I paused to take in some old-fashioned Tidy Tips.

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On the way down, a solid gray snake slithered across my path. I did not stop to take a picture of it.

I felt like I had gone back into history, being among ancient land and grazing fields, where you can still look across to the same views from hundreds of years ago, still imagine the land when it was just being built on, and before. I felt fortunate to be alive on a stunning Spring day, taking time to notice the signs of Spring’s renewal, both subtle and grand, each delicate wildflower a fresh discovery.

To get to Ring Mountain, enter from Paradise Drive, coming from either Corte Madera or Tiburon. The trailhead is just west of Marin Country Day School. The Phyllis Ellman Loop Trail is 1.76 miles and very easy to follow.

These books were helpful in identifying wildflowers and providing other information:

Wildflowers of Marin, Lilian McHoul, Celia Elke

Discover California Wildflowers, MaryRuth Casebeer

California Spring Wildflowers, Philip A. Munz

Open Spaces, Lands of the Marin County Open Space District, Barry Spitz

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman