Summer of a Different Color

August: By now, usually, our high mountain landscape is burnished with a brassy gleam, as grasses send seedheads up to nod and wave in any breeze that bothers to turn up.

In July, though, a monsoon weather pattern settled in, bringing daily thunderclouds and cool weather. The precipitation tally for the month overtopped six inches, which is very wet for this part of the country. And in the first half of August, we got almost three inches more.

For a while, I tried to figure out what was different about the greenness rolling across the slopes and hills. I eventually realized that depth was making this summer of green different from a soft surge of spring color: the lush summer grass has the dimension and sheen of velvet, denser and deeper than the vibrant felting of a damp spring.

I am continually amazed. For weeks now, I’ve either looked out a window or paused while I was outside to think, “I can’t believe how green it is!” My astonishment may be partly due to the fact that this summer started out frightfully dry. Winter snows were scanty and June was blazing hot and windy—and did I mention dry? When afternoon thunderstorms finally began organizing themselves in the second week of July, the knot of persistent tension that settles in my chest during fire weather began to dissolve, just a whit, with each fraction of an inch of rain.

Now, the urgency I feel now is how best to soak it all in.

The wildflowers know exactly what to do. When conditions shift in their favor, they don’t suffer from a paralysis of “Wow, I didn’t see that coming!” They get down to business, blooming their flowery heads off. Many of the wildflowers we normally see blooming in late spring or early summer are still going, or are at it again. The Indian paintbrush is doing its best to beat back the green with strokes of vibrant orange, pointed tips of fresh color flaring next to fading tatters of plants that emerged despite the crispy conditions of June. I’ve seen some locoweed plants raising bright magenta flower buds alongside fat seedpods still ripening from an earlier bloom.

Most years, August brings a surge of yellow as sunflowers, rabbitbrush, and broom snakeweed begin their late-season show. The yellow is appearing on schedule, but it seems muted because it’s got so much competition—not just from the tall grass, but from wildflowers that normally would be fading from the landscape. Scarlet and blaze-pink firecracker penstemon are shooting off in bright clusters. Fluted blue discs of flax, which look like they should be gracing fancy china dishes on a formal table, spangle the grass in the morning hours. Purple penstemon buds bubble up stems among sprays of bunchgrass, while milkvetches dot the jungly growth with lilac clusters. Fleabane and chickweeds and asters and evening primrose scatter white flecks over the more open stretches where low-growing blue grama grass has sent inky pennants up on wiry stems. On rocky slopes, currant bushes are hung thick with orange-red berries.

And there are mushrooms everywhere, an orgy of fruiting bodies bulging beneath the soil and then throwing it aside. They balloon, puff, cup, and swell, under the pines and among the aspens, out alongside wildflowers, up from horse poop, and, of course, scattered in the grass: white, yellow, pink-red, brown, and orange.

Other than wind and sometimes snow, I don’t usually think of my home place in terms of abundance. The semi-arid climate frequently presents extremes, but usually those are conditions to be endured, not luxuriated in. There’s no lack of beauty, but it is loveliness with an edge—granite grit and cactus spines and poking conifer needles. Usually when I think of the adaptability of the local flora and fauna, I’m thinking of their capacity to hunker down in the face of conditions that are lean, or harsh, but this summer is a good reminder that they’re ready, too, to take full advantage of abundance.

I’d like to think I should follow their lead, but this suggests I ought not to wander around being dazzled by my surroundings, and I’ve decided I’m not willing to do that.

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4 Responses to Summer of a Different Color

  1. We have been enjoying the transformation brought about by the “monsoon” along the Front Range as well. In eastern El Paso County, the plain looks veritably lush, a rare, but not unwelcome occurrence. It appears like a sea of golden sunflowers.

    • Andrea Jones says:

      Tanja, our green expanses are now getting straw-colored highlights, with a foam of sunflower yellow in spots. May you enjoy the ever-changing show!

  2. michael says:

    What a lovely post, Annie. Very nicely done. Glad that your trip was so enjoyable; look forward to hearing more about it.

    • Andrea Jones says:

      Thanks as always for visiting the blog, Michael. It’s been a busy summer for us, for the flora, and for everything that feeds on those grass and flowers. The deer are practically waddling.

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