LOCAL WALKS: (Wild)Flower Show, Part 2

1. The Calypso orchid, or Fairy slipper (Calypso bulbosa).


Finally, April.

When I was younger, much younger, May was my favorite month. A childhood spent

in chilly, upstate New York conditioned me to love the delicious weeks in May when

Lillies-of-the-valley and Forget-me-nots bloomed by the side of the garage

and Trilliums brightened the woods behind our house. Then, two things happened:

the world grew warmer, which seemed to push mid-spring back into April,

and I grew more sensitive to the tentative early hints that precede the

full-on abundance of mid-spring. Tender, lime-green leaves, cherry tree blossoms,

and the subtle blush of brighter skies excite me. April is my favorite month

and if I’m here another ten or twenty years

it might be March!


2. New branch tips perk up the Douglas fir trees.


April on Fidalgo Island means Fawn lilies, Calypso orchids, and Shooting stars:

three beloved beacons of spring. If that’s not enough, there’s a long, colorful parade

of small wildflowers that thrive on wet winters and springs and tolerate bone-dry summers.

In this manic month, I leapfrog from site to site, wanting to see it all.

Lucky for me, one location boasts a vivid display of flowers, thanks to its geology and siting.

Surrounded on three sides by water, forested in the middle, and encircled by grassy bluffs,

Washington Park is my go-to spot for spring botanizing.

On slopes by the water, the thin, poor soil left behind by glaciers

created an inhospitable environment for trees. With bent trunks and twisted branches,

they grow sparsely, leaving plenty of room for wildflowers to bask in the openings.

Small flowers that don’t mind poor soil flourish in the sun or huddle under a few trees

on the meadow’s edge. Some flowers connect with fungal networks underground,

finding nourishment there. It’s all about adapting to a complex system and it’s a good thing

that this small ecosystem by the Salish Sea is relatively intact.

I poke around, trying to see it all,

visiting the flower show as often as I can

before the stars of the show shrivel up

and disappear.


3. April 2nd: a lovely Smallflower Woodland star blooms. These always delight me with their faintly pink, deeply cleft petals.


This year, April brought gentle rains and cool, overcast days interrupted by exhilarating sunbreaks.

It was great weather for plants, if not for people longing for a perfect weekend. By the first week,

a dozen favorite flowers were already blooming. On the seventh day of the month, my darting eyes

fixated on the first ornate, pink-and-orange whiskered flowers of a Calypso orchid, a charming

flash of pink on the green and brown forest floor. Nearby, fanciful white pagoda hats

dangled from thin stems under the fir trees. The Fawn lilies had returned, too.

My breath released a shower of “Ahs.”


A Calypso orchid slideshow


A Fawn lily slideshow



By the middle of the month, upswept, magenta petals hovering over

the dagger points of stamens and pistils proved that another favorite was back –

Shooting stars!

Not only were they blooming at the edge of a meadow in the park,

they were growing in the high desert shrub-steppe, too,

sheltered under the pale, fuzzy leaves of gnarled Big sage bushes.


A Shooting star (Primula pauciflora) slideshow from Ancient Lakes, Washington



Shooting stars begin the slideshow below too, and I added some local fauna:

a Black oystercatcher, a Great blue heron, and a Gray whale that passed

through the channel one afternoon. I heard it first (there is something deeply,

reassuringly resonant about hearing an ocean-going mammal exhaling nearby).

There’s a photo of a pile of feathers on the ground, too, the remains of

some creature’s meal. I’m not a wildlife photographer but I pay close attention

to the beings I share space with – at least the ones that I can see!

Birds, especially. I love the way they animate the space –

have you ever thought about what a bird’s passage through the sky does to that “empty” space?

Suddenly, it has life and dimension. It wakes up.

The birds I photographed weren’t in flight but I’m sure you can imagine them arriving and departing.

Spring wildflowers arrive, too and they’re on time every year,

give or take a few days.

Once their reproductive work is done they pack up the show

and go home to the earth. There’s barely enough time

to see all the exhibits before the flowers fade.

But even fading flowers

are part of the endless show just outside our doors,

all given freely.



February was exciting, March was a promise kept, and April was more than I could wish for.


LOCAL WALKS: (Wild)Flower Show, Part 1

Part 1 of a series celebrating Spring wildflowers on Fidalgo Island, Washington.


1. The Satin-flower (Olsynium douglasii).


The flower show that I look forward to every winter

isn’t at a convention center in a major city. It’s entirely local –

not quite in my backyard but close to it.

Our winter is chilly, damp, and rather dark. We don’t contend with deep freezes

like other regions – in fact, the winter landscape is almost verdant with evergreens –

trees, shrubs, even hardy ferns are green all year. But trust me,

dragging through week after week of gray, 40-degree days

wears people down.

One almost wishes for a blizzard to break the tedium.

A flower show would do…

But I console myself by bundling up and taking walks. I suss out interesting

compositions involving a slice or two of light amidst the prevailing dark.

I dig deep into it and begin to appreciate the Northwest gloom

even as I long for spring and wonder when

I’ll see the first subtle signs that say

the parade is just around the corner.

Then, late in January, signs begin to appear –

buds swell, licorice ferns spring to life, and

the earliest leaves surface amidst winter’s detritus.



I grow more impatient.

Two weeks later the miracle materializes:

on the tenth of February the first tender wildflowers

grace an island meadow.

A perfect raised cup of celebratory, satin-purple petals.

I feast.

Unarmored against frigid winds or late snowstorms,

the delicate Satinflower sparks cold meadows alive.

It almost breaks my heart –

such joy after the long, dark winter.


3. February 10th: the first Satinflowers.


My eyes light up

like the light gathering outside.

Days are lengthening, temperatures are rising, and soon, down at the beach

tough leaves are bursting through gray piles of winter’s storm-tossed driftwood.

In the forested wetland, Swamp lanterns poke their yellow dunce-capped heads through the fertile muck.

I know it in my bones now: life is moving inexorably forward.

The (Wild)flower show is getting underway.


4. March 2nd: the first Red-flowering currant bud debuts.


March began with a thrilling frisson of intense color: the Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum).

Show me one bud on a currant bush

and I’m pumped! The same day I saw the first Red currant bud, there were

clusters of fat yellow Oregon grape buds (Berberis aquifolium)

and tiny Soopolallie (Shepherdia canadensis) flowers, a boon for early insects.

After a cool start to the year, the wildflower parade was slow to begin but

that suits me fine: more time to enjoy it!

On the 14th, just before the Ides of March, I saw a surprising observation on iNaturalist:

someone identified a patch of Satin-flowers in Washington Park. I know that park pretty well

and I never saw Satin-flowers there. I had to see them for myself!

The coordinates that were given weren’t very accurate. Plugging the latitude and longitude

into my phone, I found myself in the approximate location but the habitat was all wrong –

I was deep in a wooded ravine, not an agreeable spot for a grassy meadow denizen.

Looking around, I thought a patch of meadow should be just above me and to the east. After a little bushwacking

and a leg-stretching climb up a rock ledge, I emerged into the perfect environment

and there they were,

a little enclave of purple beauties, nodding their heads in the updraft

emanating from the tidal channel below. On that chilly spring afternoon

I was in heaven.

I sat in the grass and communed.



Toward the end of March, the pace picked up. Red currant bushes flowered exuberantly –

one twig snagged a tangle of Lace lichen and waved it around like ragged laundry.

Golden Swamp lanterns (Lysichiton americanus) lit up the forested wetland and in the rocky bluffs

overlooking the water, tiny, violet-blue flowers huddled together against the air’s chill.

The Small-flowered Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia parviflora), dwarfed by its own name,

has a sweet face almost no one sees – the flowers are only a few millimeters across.

A thousand feet above sea level, more Satin flowers dotted another meadow, this one featuring

views of distant mountain ranges. Sugarloaf’s vistas are exhilarating but

I was content to lie down on the earth and photograph flowers

inches away from my nose.

At about half that elevation, another meadow bore the red-orange revelation of a shaggy flower

called Harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida). Bitter cherry trees flowered gently, softening the roadsides.

Cheerful yellow Spring-gold (Lomatium utriculatum) hugged the ground

and willow trees went fuzzy-crazy. Up on Goose Rock, the dangling pink bells of Kinnickinnnick

glowed pink against the native ground cover’s glossy, deep green foliage.

The show was on but it required a little effort – a hike here,

a deep knee bend there, and always, open eyes.



All month, colors could be found in the details

but the landscape overall remained subdued. Low temperatures lingered,

clouds persisted, and it rained.

And rained again.

Weather forecasters bemoaned the cool, damp conditions

but I was happy. Cool and wet means

the (Wild)flower show lasts longer.

Below is a slideshow of my March Madness. Hover over the arrow and click to start.



If you’re curious about any of the flowers in the slideshow, just ask in the comments section.

Next up will be April, a (Wild)flower show to delight the senses.