Life In Our Mountain Town: Summer is the season for wildflowers |

Life In Our Mountain Town: Summer is the season for wildflowers

When I hike with my husband, we walk along at a pretty fast clip. The scenery is beautiful, and the exercise is great, but the identification of wildflowers, something I love to do, is nearly nonexistent. I find myself doing a sort of self-quiz as I pass by familiar wildflowers. I don’t call them out, unless my husband notices them and asks me what I think it is. Instead, I walk briskly, watching where I step and silently identify wildflowers as I go.

Hiking with my women friends is a very different experience. That’s when I get to stop and enjoy the wildflowers.

I took a hike recently with a friend along Sage Hen creek, which was really more of an opportunity for our dogs to romp and swim, while we carefully lifted a western peony to see its flower. This wildflower lies very low to the ground and it faces downward and is covered by its leaves. You have to be a detective to enjoy this magnificent flower. You also have to be willing to stop, and get down on your knees.

I saw my first shooting star along this route, another personal “event” for me because while hiking the same route a week later, I couldn’t find one shooting star along the creek bed. Of course, I was with my husband on my return visit, and we had a destination – all the way out to Stampede Reservoir and back, in two hours time.

For me, part of the wonder of enjoying our local wildflowers is the realization that they each have their own fast-fleeting season. Similar to the lilac bloom, followed by the lupine bloom around town, each flower in the wild has its own short-lived time to show us its stuff.

There are the run-of-the-mill wildflowers, the mule ears and the Indian paintbrush, and later in the season, the daisy-like purple and yellow asters. I would even classify lupine as an ordinary sight, except that recently I saw four different types of lupine on one hike. One had spidery thin leaves, another had broad leaves, one was a dwarfed version, and a fourth variety had a yellow flower instead of the usual purple. This kind of thing gets me excited.

And then there are those wildflowers that you see every summer, but I could never say they are ordinary. Each has its own fantastic shape, like the shade dwelling crimson columbine or the pennyroyal, which has an incredibly pungent mint scent as you pass by it. Or there’s the Whitney’s locoweed, a bubbly, almost jellyfish like growth that you have to climb way up high on rocky ridges to see.

The one flower that my younger daughter can routinely identify while walking along a trail is the penstemon. She liked them so much that she decided to plant some in a section of our garden at home.

I love the shrubs too, and note them as I pass. The bitter brush with its tiny yellow flowers which are blooming now, or the rabbit brush, which blooms a brilliant yellow in the fall. Willows are a personal favorite of mine, because they seem to morph into a different looking shrub as the seasons change.

While walking up Blackwood Canyon along Tahoe’s west shore recently with a friend, I was able to point out to her the scarlet gilia that lined our path. She in turn showed me the checkermallow. We admitted to each other that we both like to try to learn several new wildflowers each year. The real test is when you can learn the name of a wildflower, and then the next time you are out hiking, you can identify it. I saw a checkermallow the other day while I was hiking out to Stampede, but I couldn’t remember its name, except that it was Betsy’s flower from our walk up Blackwood Canyon.

So I came back home and found it in one of my wildflower books.

And the next time I see it, I hope I will be able to recognize it, so that I can officially add it to my personal repository of wildflower lore.

Enjoying the wildflowers that grace our local trails while hiking is good for me. It’s good for my dog too, because she needs the exercise, and most of all, it’s good for the soul.

Katie Shaffer has lived in

Truckee since 1981.

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