This morning Brendan, Mel and I headed to Butterfly Valley Road to check out the Darlingtonia and sundews. The habitat was quite rocky and dry at first and I wasn’t sure if we were really in the right place. However, after a couple of miles up the hill I spotted some Darlingtonia on the side of the road in a very small and slow moving stream. We jumped out. It was already in the 90’s probably. The Darlingtonia were EVERYWHERE! I was in heaven. I feel fortunate that I can get excited about a single plant or bird or tree. I suppose it might sound silly to some (though not most of my friends). Why are some people so moved by the natural world and others could care less? I’m not sure if it has to do mostly with upbringing or just a certain spark that moves them. Who knows?
I was so excited to see these Darlingtonias because I wasn’t expecting them in this part of California or to be this close to our home base. The pitchers were huge. Most were about 2’ and flowering! It was heaven! Among the Darlingtonias, Camas were growing and some were getting ready to bloom. Labrador Tea (a relative of Rhododendron) and a species of Iris were also growing among the carnivorous plants. The Darlingtonia made their way up the hill where a spring was seeping although the ones in the sun (and it was SUNNY out!) did not look as healthy and were not as big. I did not realize how much shade they obviously prefer.
Farther down the road on the other side a valley opened up with yet MORE Darlingtonias. We hopped out again to investigate. I knew the sundews wouldn’t be in the shade or growing where the Darlingtonia were so thick, so we were hoping they were at this sunnier and more open location. We followed a small trail down to the valley and I noticed a few Sundews almost immediately! There were actually not that many so perhaps there was a hot spot somewhere else but we were happy to find these few. The dew sparkled in the sun and the plants looked healthy. The Darlingtonias here were also shorter and more weathered because of the intense sun. I noticed that the pines (will have to check on species but a species of yellow?) in the Darlingtonia area looked like what I am used to seeing in the Pine Barrens. The soil nutrients are constantly on the move because of the spring and don’t have a chance to settle. This is why the Darlingtonias have evolved a system of trapping their own nutrients. The pines were stunted by the lack of nutrients and until they figure out how to be carnivorous I guess they’ll just have to stay that way!
All in all it was a wonderful morning-midday exploration. I cannot believe my luck landing a job surrounded by birds, great people, stunning landscapes and some of my favorite wacky plants and wildflowers. In all honesty I feel a bit guilty because I can safely say right at this very moment that life is pretty perfect. But I know that the outside world and its problems hover ever so close and this won’t last forever. Sometimes it’s hard for me to slow down and live in the moment, soak up the experience as it is happening and take it in for what it is. I’m trying harder to do this here and it isn’t difficult. I know that I’ll go back to Seattle and long for the experiences and feelings I have here with relatively no news from the outside world, no traffic, no TVs, nothing to distract me from what I truly love – the outdoors, the birds, fungi, plants, streams with all of it woven together in an amazing, constantly changing and moving yet stable tapestry of life. I know, I know, sounds corny but there is nothing that makes me happier than finding that bird nest with four blue, beautifully speckled eggs, the Darlingtonia leaf arched perfectly in the sun ray though the woods waiting for the next insect, the leafless orchid stem shooting through the leaf litter to open it’s intricate but often overlooked flowers, the busy colony of ants moving up and down a tree trunk unnoticed, the pile of soft blue feathers left by a stealthy top predator (can you say goshawk?) or the Dipper standing on one leg on a stone in the rushing stream singing his heart out as his fledglings explore their new world nearby and under his watchful eye.
You can find these things almost anywhere but a relatively intact ecosystem is where it all really shines though. I try to get to these places more often than not. What else do we have? Why not enjoy, appreciate and protect it while we can. This day won’t come again.