Further Afield: In the Mountains

Yesterday I went hiking in the North Cascades with a friend who loves the mountains and is as curious about plants as I am. It’s time for berry picking now and most of the wildflowers are finished, but we hoped to find a few flowers hanging on. One of the flowers still blooming was a delicate, pure-white flower that looked familiar. I knew I’d seen it in the field guides but I couldn’t remember the name for it. I made a few quick photos to study when I got home. The pretty little wildflower was dropping snow-white petals onto the dark soil at the trail’s edge; it was a lovely, poignant sight signifying the end of summer.

After I got home I looked for the plant in my field guide and found it: it’s the Fringed Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia fimbriata). The odd name instantly brought up a memory of my mother saying “Grass of Parnassus” as she described a similar wildflower she found hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina, where she lived. In fact, Grass of Parnassus is probably one of the flowers we saw on our last drive up into the mountains back in 1999, when she was fighting pancreatic cancer. Late that summer I visited her to help out and we took a pleasant drive together to see the scenery. It was one of many visits I made that year before she finally drew her last breath in her own bed, on Christmas Eve.

My mother loved wildflowers and passed that along to me. Mountains, too – she hiked many miles in the Blue Ridge Mountains with her hiking buddies. We never hiked in the mountains when I was a child; we lived in places with rolling hills and we vacationed nearby, or at my grandparent’s home near the ocean. But I remember standing on a hillside outside of Syracuse, New York with my mother when I was a schoolgirl and gazing at a glorious view spread out below us. It was essentially the same feeling I get from mountains vistas, that peaceful relaxing into open space that assures you there are endless possibilities ahead.

1. Mount Baker, or Koma Kulshan, an active stratovolcano in northwestern Washington, seen from a meadow on Dock Butte.

2. Mount Shuksan from the trail to Dock Butte.

3. The Sauk Mountain trail with a view of the Skagit River Valley far below.

4. A pond by the trail to Dock Butte.

My parents retired to place where they could hike in the mountains, and without making the connection to what they did, I did the same thing, although I’m on a different side of the country. But it’s no surprise since they set the stage early on, conveying a deep and lasting appreciation for nature. I kept the passion alive, thanks to my own enthusiasm and to the people around me. Now I’m living in a beautiful part of the world, making forays out to places that nourish the most fundamental parts of my life.

I’ll keep going back up to the mountains as often as I can, which isn’t as often as I’d like. It usually involves a long drive on terrible roads, and a bit of planning. But oh, is it worth it!

5 – 7. Wildflowers and butterflies on Sauk Mountain.

8. Another butterfly on Sauk Mountain.

9. Blueberries on the trail to Dock Butte. This blueberry bush has lost its leaves but the berries were incredibly sweet and flavorful. Another connection with the past: my mother picked quantities of wild blueberries in the mountains every summer and froze them for pies.
10. Old evergreens on the trail to Dock Butte.

11. Towering firs have a commanding presence on the trail to Dock Butte.
12. Sauk Mountain meadows and wildflowers in late July.

13. Wildflowers and mountain views, Sauk Mountain trailhead, 4300 feet (1310 m).

Late in July I hiked Sauk Mountain, another North Cascade Range peak. I didn’t quite make it to the top that day but that did not diminish my pleasure. The wildflowers were riotous, the butterflies and bees happy, and the view seemed endless. I’m sure my mother would have enjoyed that day. My son would have too, if he’d been there. The passion for nature, especially for the mountains, is alive in him.

14. Going camping in the mountains.

There’s something exhilarating about being high up in the wilderness. I’m thankful that my parents instilled a keen appreciation for the outdoors in their kids, and thankful I have friends and family who share the passion. My wish for you is that even if the mountains aren’t accessible and the wilderness is out of reach you can still go outside, quiet down, and forget yourself. With a little luck, the energy around you will bring peace, and maybe even a tear to your eyes.

15. Fringed Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia fimbriata), losing its last petals in early September on the Dock Butte trail at about 4200 feet (1280 m).

60 comments

  1. I understand so well what you wrote about what remained in us, “planted” by our parents!
    My mother had no scientific knowledge of nature, but had practical and empirical knowledge. So much she knew!
    I have inherited her sensitivity and specially attention, something ” I need” to feed every day on short walks, in nature or even in the city. On vacation, the possibilities are greater, of course!!
    I love this post, the mountains, your beautiful photos and sensitivity. As always!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Dear Bluebrightly,

    I receive your blog and love it! Such beautiful photos and lovely stories and descriptions. I am home taking care of a husband who is ill and I don’t get out hiking much anymore.

    I also am communicating with two friends who are dying of cancer and would like your permission to send them some of your photos to cheer them up. I would give you credit.

    Thank you. Bonnie on Samish Island

    >

    Liked by 2 people

    • Of course, I’m honored to think that these photos might help make the day a little easier for your friends. It sounds like you’re all close by, so the scenes must be familiar. (If you google Bluebrightly and Mt. Rainier or Deception Pass, etc., you’ll find posts about familiar landmarks in the archives). Thank you for stopping by and letting me know what this post means to you – I appreciate it so much. Take care of yourself!!

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  3. Lynn – this is lovely, maybe we don’t fully appreciate beauty and the gifts of family and friendship unless it’s mixed with a bit of sadness. I think of one of my grandmothers whenever I walk in a flower garden, not the mountains, but it’s the same thing. I’m in the Chicago airport, going to be away a few weeks for work, so I may not comment for a while, but wanted to be sure to say how much I liked your post. Oh and the beautiful photos too of course! Bye for now.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you very much, Howard – in #3, what (probably obviously) caught my eye was the way the meandering path mimicked the river below. It’s always tricky taking photos up there because the light tends to be harsh – no way can I get there early enough for better light! 😉 So I do what I can, and the landscape is so powerful that I hope it makes up for any lack of technique on my part. 🙂

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  4. I just watched Live from Lincoln Center on PBS. This episode was filmed in Greece, and one of the places mentioned in the program was Parnassus. That reminded me of Montparnasse in Paris, which I first visited in 1985. Then I came over here and found the fringed grass of Parnassus. Ah, coincidences.

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    • And you’ll love this – that butterfly above, which is the same species in both photos (though it may not look like it) is Parnassius phoebus – the Phoebus apollo, a mountain dweller. Those Greeks!

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  5. Oh my… your first paragraph or memories held me breathless and then the satisfying sigh at your lovely mountain shots. Your love of them shines through in every pixel. We’re hoping to see some mountains shortly. They certainly do get under your skin, don’t they?

    “quiet down, and forget yourself”… it’s what your post did for me at a time when I haven’t been out much for various reasons. Thanks! ❤

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  6. The love of nature seems to be deeply implanted in you, dear Lynn. It is invaluable to have such parents who feel that way and pass that on to their children. And you, too, seem to have succeeded in passing on well.
    Your photos take me a little bit on your hike into the mountains, especially if you show paths that meander before my eyes into the unknown.
    And what a lovable, tender little plant is Parnassia fimbriata! I think they do not exist in Europe. Thank you for letting me know this beauty!

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s the idea, passing on the good things, right? 🙂
      The paths – I love photographing them, there’s something about them that always feels good, so I’m pleased that you like them. It’s never easy, taking photos when you’re out of breath and the sun is beating down, but the scenery is spectacular so you know that will make up for any lack of expertise or imagination. Even a snapshot taken up there looks good. 😉
      The flower is one of those modest plants that rewards a closer look. There’s a species in that genus that grows in England/Scotland I think – they like wet places and arctic or alpine locations. Thank you for commenting, Ule, and please forgive me for not catching up with your post yet. I will!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Of course, spectacular scenery helps with bad light, and when you have to go a long way to from home to that location, there isn’t much chance for good light. So that’s the challenge you always master: make fine photos in spite of that.
        As to catching up: there is no reason at all for you to be forgiven.

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  7. Beautiful pictures, Lynn >>> LOL!!! and I’m with Harrie (its all the Duvel we drink!), numbers 3 and 10 >>> and in both instances too, I wondered if they might look good in black and white. And I love the butterflies too, you can always get to me with butterflies!!!

    And then … all your thoughts about “a deep and lasting appreciation for nature” – well, you and I know each other well enough, we are fellow travellers. A 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, it pleases me so much to think of you and Harrie hanging out with your Duvels. I am there in spirit – or was.
      Strangely enough, that butterfly is the same species from above and below -a mountain dweller with some relatives on your side of the pond. In some of them, the outer parts of the wings are translucent or almost transparent – so cool. And their bodies are furry to keep warm up there.
      I would not have thought of #3 in B&W – maybe #10. Interesting idea, thank you. Thanks for your thoughts and cheer, Adrian, much appreciated!

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  8. it is tender to remember what our parents provided us with…your mothers story is touching and beautiful Lynn…and now your love of the land is shared with your family and others…I feel I’m there…I told my sister this year I want to see Wildflowers in the mountains but time got away on us…I love the room without a roof…such beautiful blue 💙💙💙 have a peaceful day dear Lynn 🤗❣️

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    • The weather was not too hot (though there were moments when we were panting and sweating) and clouds moved in in the afternoon, which I liked. I’d love to see it up there at a better time of day for photography but so far it’s always the middle of the day because of the long drive on poor roads (or is it because I really don’t want to get up at 4am?).
      You and Alan both have not been up to the mountains for a long time. Well, I’d recommend trying to get up there – maybe a week in the Adirondacks next year?
      You liked the berries – don’t they look like ornaments? It was quite a bonanza for blueberries, I ate as I went and didn’t bring home as may as I should have. That butterfly is the same kind as the one in the other photo, though they look different. Furry bodies for the altitude – so interesting. Thanks, Ken!

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    • It’s true what you say about being fortunate to hike in these grand and wild spaces. When we came out here on vacation, in the fall of 2011 from our apartment in NYC, that’s just what we thought – so many wild places, so close to towns and cities. So we moved. 🙂 Thanks, Jean!

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  9. Wow, what a breathtaking view on the tops of all these beautiful and impressive mountains! Your photos show your love for nature very well and I agree how good it is to have parents, relatives or friends that show us the beauty of it. How nice, that you could enjoy and spend the time with your mother inmidst of nature and the wildflowers! A valuable thing you shared! I never heard of the Grass of Parnassus before and I think it isn’t native here. It looks beautiful and strong. – I remember picking blueberries with my family too. But they didn’t last till home. Instead they always went directly into the mouth 😉 What you write about beeing outside and especially in the mountains is so true. Sometimes when I see documentaries about the Alpes in Austria or Switzerland I got the impression that the people, who live so high up in the mountains, have a special relationship to nature. As if they understand perfectly how small we humans are in comparison to nature. They often seem to be so calm and relaxed and they have respect for all that surrounds them. – Beside of the mountains I love the detail pictures of the colorful flowers and the beautiful butterfly!!! Thank you for taking us with you to these special places.

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    • As usual, you scrutinized every facet of the post and noticed the details about the plants and the rest. I must admit that lots of berries went directly into my mouth that day, too. The best flavor that way! Your thoughts about people who live high in the mountains are interesting – I have certainly always thought that was the case about people who live in places like Tibet, but you make a good point – it could apply to the Alps and many other places. Thank you, Almuth!

      Liked by 1 person

      • The ones from the woods taste best don’t they 🙂 I remember a story about blueberries, but I better tell you about it another way 😉 – Probably many places where humans can measure themselves with nature lead to more respect and mindfulness, but I think high mountains are a good place to see and feel that.

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  10. Love seeing your trip in the mountains, Lynn. Such a wonderfully beautiful part of the country. Although a bittersweet recollection, it was good to read about your mother’s influence and as the source for your love of wildflowers, the mountains , and nature in its total beauty. Such a wonderful appreciation to instill in a child, just as you have in your son. Great picture of him in what must be a favorite environment. 🙂

    .

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  11. Lovely post and images Lynn! It’s nice to see some mountains different from where I live. Your first image is an especially nice composition. We never talked about your son … I have a son too … he’s 34 and loves nature and the mountains as well! We are lucky that he lives nearby.

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  12. How wonderful for you to have such a mother to share the natural world with. I would have loved that kind of experience, but it wasn’t to be. My own mother preferred white gloves to gardening gloves, and the thought of hiking or camping gave her the vapors! I suppose that’s one of my biggest regrets in life: that I came so late to enjoyment of the natural world. But there’s still time, and while the mountains and sheer wildness are out of reach, nature isn’t — you’re so right to advise going outside, quieting down, and forgetting ourselves.

    I especially enjoyed the photo of the blueberries. Plucking sun-warmed berries, one by one, is such a different experience from purchasing them already packaged in the store. In some ways, it’s akin to plucking experiences, one by one, rather than simply picking up someone else’s pre-packaged experience.

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    • Gave her the vapors! That’s funny. But yes, that would not have helped you to hone your love of nature. My mother and I were close in many ways but also very different, in important ways. But that’s common enough, I suppose. What an altogether lovely comment, Linda, thank you – yes, our own experiences are nourishing.

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