Friday, December 12, 2014

Time capsule: A perfect day on Pawnee Pass...September 2009

Erigeron pinnatisectus

I am not sure if I believe that "daisy" comes from "day's eyes", but it may partly explain my fondness for asters, fleabanes and all the little composites others demean and complain about. I'm not sure I've ever gotten a better picture of this endemic of the Southern Rockies--one of the loveliest of alpine day's eyes! Unlike the cutleaf daisy (Erigeron compositus) which is much commoner and more widespread, this one has more ferny leaves that are pinnate (hence the name) rather than simply palmate like compositus. It generally grows in more turfy sites than crevices--so I was lucky to find it!

The long and winding road...

I had returned in mid-July from a luminous trip I'd taken to Central Asia--and my garden was in such arrears that I hadn't gotten up to the mountains much subsequently, although the incredibly cold, wet spring delayed things so much then when we finally did there was lots in bloom--even in September, when I took these pix.
Aquilegia caerulea
I can still recall my surprise and delight when I found a colony of our State Flower in full bloom--so very late in the season! Such are the blessings of living in high mountainous territories. I have enjoyed Pasqueflowers, for instance, opening their first flowers in my garden in February in a warm microclimate--and then I can follow them in bloom for the next six months: I've walked through throngs of pasqueflowers blooming in July on Medicine Bow Pass. I think columbines may actually beat this record: we can have blue columbines opening their first flowers in late April--and here is fresh bloom a few dozen miles away nearly seven months later!
Aquilegia caerulea
As a native born Coloradoan I am required to linger a few moments, and show this second closeup...

Spring freshet in September!
And the streams were still full in the autumn--you can tell it had been a snowy spring and a rainy summer!
Angelica ampla and Mertensia paniculata
Here is a combination that would grace any perennial border: in fact, I'm astonished that we haven't tried it at Denver Botanic Gardens. We grew Mertensia paniculata superbly for years in our Romantic Gardens (although I realize that it is no longer there, I believe). I was even worried for a while it could be weedy: it would grow almost five feet tall and bloomed all summer. I have never seen our native giant Angelica ever cultivated anywhere--although we've grown many exotic species including the classic herb. Amazing what is remaining to be done in horticulture (we've missed the proverbial boat, like James Fenimore Cooper's incredibly inept Indians: you must read Mark Twain's masterful review if you haven't hitherto: it's surely finest dressing down in American literature)...

Alpine lady fern (Athyrium distentifolium var. americanum)
I shall never forget the first time I found this hillside a short distance above treeline on the Pass--with dozens if giant clumps of alpine lady fern. I have only encountered this fabulous native fern a few times since--once near Gothic, where a small valley was filled with thousands of clumps!--but this remains my personal locus classicus, I have returned to this pass again and again since I first climbed it, and this is one of my main goals!

Alpine lady fern (Athyrium distentifolium var. americanum)
A closer look at this graceful sprite of a native--what a witty fern, to grow only above treeline!

Alpine lady fern (Athyrium distentifolium var. americanum)
And one last lingering glimpse.

Heuchera bracteata
The lime green endemic alumroot of our mountains still had fresh flowers!

Rhodiola rhodantha
A rich meadow filled with Queen's crown in various strages of flowering: and barely two months earlier I'd enjoyed its pale cousin, Rhodiola semenowii, growing in thick masses in the Tien Shan above Almaty. I realize that I have published precious few of the pix I took on my two fabulous trips to Central Asia in this blog--too many plants too little time. Perhaps I should time capsule a few of them too?
Dryas octopetala in seed
My son's hand picking a few seedpods of mountain dryad, which I'd also enjoyed in the Altai mountains not long before.

Jesse near the summit: the red is Geum rossii
As we neared the top of the pass, the vast meadows spread out in tawny glory--the red color almost entirely Geum rossii--one of our alpine glories which paints the mountains yellow in early summer and then red in the fall.
Gentiana algida
And the harbinger of winter, alpine gentian, thrust up everywhere among the geum, making a wonderful contrast. I'd seen this budded up in Central Asia not long before, and found it in bloom there exactly a year later. I am a lucky botanist indeed!
Gentiana algida
Now if we could only grow this in our gardens! This is a rather difficult plant in hot summer climates...
Erigeron leiomerus
We have such a wealth of fleabanes, I'm not entirely sure which species from this picture--but love the way it grows along with the pussytoes.

Here it is in a crevice...plants always look so poised coming out of rocks--no wonder I love rock gardening so much!

I can never have enough of daisies...especially since they love our gardens so: I grow a dozen or more fleabanes in various parts of my gardens and troughs. Maybe more species than that. And it's not nearly enough! And above, the day's eye was beginning to lower on the horizon.

Westering sun...
There was really plenty of time to get back to the car, even though it seemed the sun was setting--the late summer nights are still quite dilatory, as I have been in this bit of a time capsule.

How fortunate that we can have these images tucked away on our hard drives, on various thumb drives. We lose track of them, and then they reappear, and the very day seem to resurrect. I had experienced one of the most tumultuously exciting summers of my life--my first trip to the heart of Central Asia! I came back to a horribly overgrown garden and a mountain of responsibilities: I managed a few quick trips, but this was my last long trip into the high country--which due to the incredibly late summer still had spring flowers persisting--a great compensation. I had not climbed this pass in a very long time--perhaps two decades. And I have not climbed it since.

I try not to wallow in sentimentality excessively in this blog--but occasionally some of my personal life peeks through: I avoided showing the many pictures I took of my 17 year old son, with whom I climbed the pass that day: I don't think I have been a reprehensible parent. But I realize in retrospect I had not gone on nearly enough hikes with either of my children. It's true, we've hiked almost every Western state at one point or another, but that is not enough: the exigencies of a working life. The slow recovery from a painful separation. The neglectful habits of late middle age. So somehow revisiting and capturing a bit of the magic of one hike, one day--forever receding in the past--remembering the wonderful time I shared that day with a my sun, my son: this is a gift to myself, Thank you for your indulgence.


  1. Maybe you should spend time gardening, or hiking, with younger people. It is nice to pass down the torch.


  2. You touch a nerve, Jim: I feel as though I've not done enough: but then--can one ever do enough of that which you love? You must feel the tug between responsibilities, routine, and the passion for plants and family? A relative-in-law (now ex- I suppose) that your life is like a stove, and you have four burners--and one pot. The burners are family, health, wealth and friendship. If you keep moving the pot around, it never boils: so pick one. Two at the most. Three is straining it. You get the picture!


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