Vacation Reflections

Well, vacations—both the planned of July and the unplanned of August—are over: time to get back to writing work. What better way to get back into the routine than to reflect on the break?

About not writing in August, there’s nothing to say other than it happened. As for the July blog vacation, I recognize a level of absurdity in calling daily posts a “break,” but the idea was to relieve myself of the obligation to find a topic, draft a narrative, check sense and logic, organize the right words in the right order, edit, and all that. My break was intentional, total, and extended to my work-in-progress as well as the blog: I was released from guilt about a lack of progress. No angst, no pressure, no recrimination.

A separate goal was to maximize time outside while the wildflowers were at their peak, and to share the show; I wanted to spend some of my summer idling and ogling rather than immersed in The Busy.

Featuring flowers native to my part of Colorado offered a way to provide context without narrative. I knew going in that including names would complicate the project, but felt they were an important element in properly sharing the bloom. A flower picture on its own is a taxonomic assignment; pair it with a name and the viewer’s curiosity has a head start, should he or she be inclined to learn more.

The problem with plant names is that they sound definitive even though they’re not. Common names rely on whimsey, tradition, and local convention. Formal names lean on classification systems subject to debate and revision.

Then, when it comes to naming plants, we’re talking about living organisms rather than products manufactured within consistent and well-defined specifications. In flowering plants, elaborations of form, color, and scent are executed in the interest of reproduction. Even if plants are not locomotory, they do get around, if you know what I mean, and diversity is part of the point of sexual re-mixing.

In addition to the uncertainties built into labeling and genetics, you also have to take into account the fact that the field guides we use in identification are texts. As such, they perform a sly bait-and-switch. Declarations therein propose answers but cannot ensure certainty on the ground. Drawing a conclusion requires judgment, which almost inevitably demands further reflection, inquiry, or observation.

What field guides are best at is directing your attentiveness. They point the user to field marks and identifying characteristics. A good plant guide will coax you to look not just at flower color and petal shape, but also at the size of leaves and the height of the plant, at growth habit, soil type, slope exposure, moisture and light levels.

The daily blog posts of this past July were insistent and specific reminders of where I am, but they also located my local flowers and my experiences of them within a larger framework of human knowing and life on this planet. I hope my bloom-a-day July captured the gratitude I feel for this place, and for the privilege of being here.

What fun to have an excuse to immerse more deeply in my place. To go walkabout across this piece of Colorado’s bounty with the sole aim of documenting its divers wonders was a gift whose value I’m still finding ways to comprehend. It’s humbling to know just ignorant I remain, despite this latest chapter in my decades-long attempt to understand where it is I’ve located myself.

One of the mysteries I’m confronted with is the origin of the fantastic bloom. Unlike other parts of Colorado, where record snowfall fed botanical exuberance with unusually abundant water, the big NOAA rain gauge I monitor shows that year-to-date precipitation at this site is merely so-so.

I speculate that temperature was more critical to our spectacular 2019 Wildflower Summer than snow and rain. The winter was cold, and snow sat on the ground for months. The cover protected soil and plants from desiccating wind, and the accumulation provided a sizeable infusion of water once the ground thawed. All of our May precipitation came as snow, which soaked in more slowly than rain and kept the brakes on plant growth with cold temperatures. And then, unlike the pattern of the last several years, during which June seared with an unrelenting blare of hot, sun-filled, rain-scarce, and fire-prone days, the weather stayed cool. The weather station recorded 1.85 inches of precipitation: respectable, but not extravagant, unless you compare it to June 2018’s dismal 0.09.

And then came July. The weather warmed, and more rain came–in moderation, but it came. Plants up here know what to do with water; my 31 days of wildflower porn is a testament to their talents.

I’d like to think the display was memorable enough without my self-assigned documentary project, but I’m not sorry I challenged myself to record the field marks of an extraordinary season.

 

Postscript: At the end of July, I tallied up the plants I hadn’t gotten to, along with those that don’t bloom in mid-summer. There are enough native flowering plants I didn’t manage to document in July that I could to the bloom-a-day project for another month, without repeats.

 

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8 Responses to Vacation Reflections

  1. Teri Jurgens says:

    I did enjoy and look forward to your daily posts. It seems like flower identification has a lot in common with bird identification: sometimes it takes a lot of attention to detail to know what you’re seeing.

  2. Kayann says:

    Your posts captured so well how writing helps us record our private experiences within, as you put it, “a larger framework of human knowing and life on this planet.” No small thing, that. I just finished Barbara Kingsolver’s latest novel, Unsheltered. One of her characters is Mary Treat, an early naturalist who didn’t get much attention because she was a woman. I think she’d approve of your project!

  3. Your bounty—another 30 days of flowers left uncatalogued—and your notes on the month’s worth you did post, were a delight. I had no idea.

  4. I am glad you were inspired by your wildflower porn, Andrea. Maybe it will induce you to present another month’s worth of posts. 😊🌸🌻🌼

  5. Andrea Jones says:

    Teri, I’m glad you enjoyed the flower posts. My attempts at identification added a layer of complexity, but definitely pushed me to learn some new things. Isn’t it funny that the differences make a difference, whether you’re sorting birds or plants, are sometimes the differences you didn’t even know existed?

  6. Andrea Jones says:

    Thank you, Kayann. These links and resonances between our private experiences of the world and public ways of talking or sharing knowledge about the same is a key theme in the book I’m working on. It’s nice to feel like I can still be noodling through aspects of that relationship even when I’m in one of those phases when that work is suspended.

    I haven’t read Kingsolver’s latest, but I’ve heard good things, and need to add it to my list.

  7. Andrea Jones says:

    Patricia, I hadn’t ever really thought about all the different flowering plants up here, and the number surprises me still. It’s hard to know how to respond–I mean, I appreciate the diversity and the beauty and the toughness, but now I feel like a real ignoramus!

  8. Andrea Jones says:

    Oh, goodness, Tanja: it was fun in so many ways, but also very intense! I think if I took on another month’s worth, I’d give myself some time to prepare more in advance…three or four years ought to do it.

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