Long ago, as an undergraduate, I spent a summer living out of a small tent in the southern Canadian Rocky Mountains.  I was the field assistant to a woman who was working on her Masters degree in geology.  She was working on one particular mountain, its strata folded over to form an “anticline”.  It was a simple existence for me, enjoyable in every way except for a vague fear of grizzly bears. You’d think that the presence of two humans would scare off the animals in the area, but deer or mountain sheep tended to wander by the tent in the early hours, we’d spy an occasional marmot, and there were plenty of ground squirrels. One day we had to take a wide berth around a wolverine. And late in the summer I learned that an elk bugling not far from your tent will really rattle your bones.  Luckily the grizzly bears at least were sensible, and did not come anywhere near us (as far as we knew!).
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The well-studied mountain.
Each day up the mountain we would go, climbing ever higher and higher, one of us taking measurements all the way.  I don’t remember doing much work at all.  I hammered away at the limestone to dig out fossils. I became fascinated by the wildflowers that grew in abundance around our tent and up the mountain.  I knew nothing about flowers or gardening at the time, but I was amazed at the sheer variety of plants that grew in the alpine meadows and in the rock crevices.  Now I recognize that many of the plants were variations of plants that we grow in our gardens today, such as pentsemon, saxifrage, yarrow, and phlox.  My favourite wildflower was, and still is, Indian paintbrush Castilleja miniata.  Near our mountain this flower took on a beautiful purplish hue, instead of the bright red I’ve seen elsewhere (perhaps it was a different species).  I considered the idea of becoming a botanist.  And I learned that I loved the alpine.

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The tent at the foot of the mountain, early in the summer, surrounded by purple pasque flowers (pulsatilla) among others.
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Later in the summer the tent was surrounded by fireweed.
Since that time I’ve spent a lot of time in the mountains in BC and the Yukon, and have never lost my interest in alpine flowers and plants, and their amazing ability to adapt to high altitude and harsh conditions.
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Red Indian Paintbrush and white Pasque flower in Kootenay National Park.
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Yarrow, growing near Helmet Falls (one of the highest falls in Canada) - Kootenay National Park.
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That's me in the Chilko mountains with our first dog Cody. He loved the mountains too!
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Cotton Grass, Dempster Highway, Yukon.
I think the most extreme example of plant adaptation I've ever seen was on Maui at the Haleakala Volcano. The ahinahina plant, or silversword, is an endangered plant that grows only at high altitude on volcanic "soil" in Hawaii.  A gorgeous plant, its silver foliage stands out strikingly against the dull volcanic landscape.  Somehow this plant survives the relentless beating of the sun and has worked out a way to get nutrients and water from its harsh environment. 

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Haleakala Volcano - does this look like a good place to grow?
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Ahinahina plant (silversword) - living almost 10,000 ft. above sea level.
That first summer in the alpine of the Rocky Mountains was a life changer for me.  I developed a true love of plants and realized that they are happiest in a place to which they are well-adapted.  After that I worked three more summers in the mountains.  During one of these summers, in the Cassiar Mountains, I met my husband.  He's always been more interested in the rocks than the flowers, but they go together well.

* This post is in response to #GrowWriteGuild prompt #6 "Landscapes".
 


Comments

10/06/2013 5:05am

What a fabulous landscape! You describe it so well too, makes me wonder where I could slot an alpine into my gardens

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Louise
10/06/2013 7:51am

Thank you Clare. I know what you mean - even a small rock garden would be nice!

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10/06/2013 9:17am

Stunning photos and such an incredible time in your life! This is my favorite post of yours ye.! (And not just from the GWG prompts). Loved being able to experience some of that journey with you here!

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Louise
10/06/2013 4:15pm

Thanks so much Jo. I really appreciate all your positive feedback! I'm looking forward to your next installment for the GrowWriteGuild.

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bbradford
10/06/2013 5:32pm

Thanks for reminding me on Facebook, Louise - got caught up on your April/May/June posts. I'll now finally get around to checking the part that says "Notify me of new comments...."! You are such a good writer, and your photographs are stunning. Knowing how relatively diminutive your little garden patch is, I am amazed and impressed at the variety of plants you've collected. Very inspiring!

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Louise
10/06/2013 6:41pm

Hi Barb - thanks so much for your kind comments. I didn't realize my blog even had that feature!! Really my garden is just overcrowded, and I keep trying to stuff more into it. I hope everything is well with you!

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12/06/2013 8:12am

Gorgeous photos! What a fun experience to live in the mountains like that!

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Louise
12/06/2013 5:11pm

Thanks Evee. Yes, it was a big adventure for sure!

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15/06/2013 8:35pm

What a memorable summer. I love the pictures of your tent, and of the yarrow! Thank you for sharing.

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Louise
15/06/2013 10:37pm

Thank you Paula!

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18/06/2013 7:19am

WOW, I am floored by these photos and so enjoyed reading about your adventures. Beautiful! Thank you for sharing this with us, Louise. :)

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Louise
18/06/2013 8:15am

Thanks Laurie! And thanks for stopping by my blog.

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Cathy
18/06/2013 9:08pm

I loved reading about your memories from those geology days. It sounds like a vacation the way you describe it! I've really enjoyed your photos from your garden too. It's (almost) inspiring me to take more of the plants here :)

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Louise
18/06/2013 9:14pm

Haha, and I got paid too (although not that much!). Perhaps I'll be reading your blog soon??

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Elena
17/01/2014 2:12pm

Excellent. You may find the Theodore Payne Society (Sunlad CA) of interest re adaptive native plants

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