Friday, November 25, 2011

Little lilies...the glacier and trout lilies

I've just been sorting images, and this picture I took last July between Aspen and Crested Butte on a wonderful trip I took with the Ratzeputz gang probably is about the best I did this year: I doubt if there has ever been a better summer for our mountains...although the show only really kicked in at higher elevations (in the northern half of the state to be sure) in mid July! It was an anno mirabili for sure! I realized gazing on this how emblematic plants are: no wonder they are the logo and symbol of so many things (e.g., War of the Roses, the Fleur de lis, the Colorado Columbine). I have touched on the Columbine elsewhere...but glacier lilies are every bit as redolent and resonant for me.

Throughout perhaps half the high mountains of Colorado (mostly the Western slope) glacier lilies grow in unbelievable profusion. I recall marvelling at them from my earliest childhood: I have spent goodly amounts of time through my life simply sitting among them and revelling in their amazing grace and beauty. I have sniffed them like a bee and I have examined them carefully and with great joy. I have been horrified when as a child I heard my brother in law Allan Taylor, tell me that in Blackfeet language, they are called little shits, because their slender, graceful corms reminded the Blackfeet of shit, apparently. And I remember being almost as shocked a few years ago when my best buddy, Bill Adams, announced to me that "the one plant that leaves me cold is the Lily: I just don't like it" although he redeemed himself a tad when he went on to say that he did like the Erythroniums considerably more than true Lilium. I adore Lilium, you see: and Erythroniums are the early spring harbinger of their summer sexpot sisters. Lolitas, as it were, to the summer Audrey Hepburns, Sophia Lorens and Dolly Partons of the woodlands! But when Erythroniums are out, just call me Humbert Humbert!

I've grown a bevy of Erythronium in my day, although the gorgeous West Coasters are not as fabulous here as they are for the British and Western Europeans. It is almost annoying to see how they grow in Scotland. I am astonished that some Briton has not cranked out a Kew monograph on Erythronium: It takes an Englishman (or perhaps a German) to really appreciate our native wildflowers!

And I wish I could take them all up to Rabbit Ear's Pass in late June, or Kebler Pass a few weeks later and watch them gasp at the miles and miles of yellow magnificence. It is astonishing to me that we pay such ridiculous sums to Sports and Acting luminaries in America. I love my computer, but I cannot fathom the worship of I-Phones and the endless addiction of young people to texting. But they perhaps, would be chagrined if they knew my secret addiction to these nymphets of the spring!

That second picture, by the way, is Erythronium albidum--one of the wonderful and underappreciated Eastern species which has thrived for decades at Denver Botanic Gardens, spreading around here and there modestly, and blooming predictably every April and May. At least two of the easterners are widely spreading by underground runners: not a problem, incidentally! You see, Erythronium grandiflorum will grow poorly for us, withour the vigor or abandon that the Eastern American species. The only one that self sows for me is the European Erythronium dens-canis which shall merit its own blog in due time....

I realize this is a wordy blog: it is all about emotion and reminiscence, and the nuance of flowers--which all take time. For those of us with chlorophyll in our veins, the endless permutation of flowers in our lives, their comings and goings, their performance one year after the next: well, this is really the stuff of our life. They become the touchstones that lend a sort of meaning to things. I sniff glacier lilies, ergo my life is worthwhile!

Glacier Lilies on Rabbit Ears Pass (Mid 1960's)

As soon as highway 40 rose a bit
Above the sagebrush suddenly I'd see
A yellow gauze of bubbly flowers flit
Outside the rushing window and I'd plead

To my dad: "Stop!" and he'd say "wait
A few minutes till we get to Walton Creek
There'll be plenty there, and you can sate
Yourself with flowers", (all of this in Greek

Of course) and as usual he was right
We were there "fishing", but I was lily
Rapt, lily struck: morning to night
Treading on them, everywhere: willy nilly

Glacier lilies: utterly verklempt!
I'd count up to seven blossoms on a stem,
and sniff them. I have never dreamt
As sweet a dream as Walton Creek was then.

The mornings were still frosty, but by noon
The freshets would swell up and there, below
Their glassy, rushing waters I'd discern
A throng of throbbing lilies in the flow

Beneath the water as their brethren jerked
Wafted and bobbed in windy gusts above.
Meanwhile my slightly worried father smirked
At his flower besotten son, absurdly in love

With lilies, casting my rod with less than manly
Elan, shall we say? Distracted by Erythronium
The only man in all my extended family
Who fished so bad. Lost in the Pandemonium

Of lilies. I could care less about brook trout,
Till lunch. that is, when we would clean and gut
And powder them with flour and fry them up
A better lunch I've never had. I doubt

Those halcyon days of lilies and my father
When seconds slowed to minutes, then to hours
Will ever end. I wish I hadn't bothered
Him so much. Another twinge: More flowers!

If we could really go back and relive any day
In our lives, I would opt for those trips with my dad
On Rabbit Ears pass, clouds scudding away
And the glacier lilies driving both of us mad!


  1. I just love these little beauties, I always think it's almost surreal when you come upon them in the wild on's so hard to believe something so delicate-looking can survive on it's own! I'm still trying to find a good spot in my garden for some.


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