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Buttercups and dandelions

Mothers Day, at least before global warming, coincided with the first spring wildflower blossoms. When I was a child, that timing worked to my advantage.The first time I picked flowers for my mother I went with my older sister. After that I went alone. In 1950s Aspen even 6-year -olds could wander the town alone without triggering parent paranoia. I dont remember how my sister knew where to find flowers, but it wasnt a search it was a destination. From our downtown residence we walked to the Glory Hole. At that time it was not a park. It was a pit caused by an underground mine collapse and served as an unofficial refuse dump. Naturally, I had to stop and throw rocks into the Glory Hole, contributing to the future park as well as my sisters impatience. From there we crossed fields that sported a few clumps of sagebrush, grass that was just turning green, and granite boulders of various sizes. The Gant now occupies what then was empty space for us to traverse. An abundance of dandelions dotted the entire route. I tried to convince my sister that a bouquet of them, especially since there were so many, would please our mother: We dont have to go on, lets pick these.Older sisters always know more than little brothers, but the argument that a dandelion was a weed and not a flower did not convince me. Sister not only disdained dandelions, she was allergic to them, so we trekked onward toward the base of Aspen Mountain.When we neared the trees that surround the Ute Cemetery, real flowers became visible. That afternoon and every year when I returned, yellow buttercups contrasted with spring green.Ann Zwinger, Colorado artist and naturalist writer, provides this eloquent description of alpine buttercups: Snow buttercups present a precise chronology of telescoped summer marking the retreat of snow in snowbed communities. Although small, their pure brilliance of color is intensified by massed growth habit as they form great necklaces of plaited gold against the unredeemed brown of ungreened ground.They say you find buttercups where they can keep their feet wet. The May snowmelt pools around the buttercups. Picking them was easy and in just a few minutes my sister and I had more than enough. I liked to have my hands free for important activities like rock throwing, so I stuffed my pickings into my pockets. My sister condescendingly corrected my method and demonstrated the proper way to carry them all in one hand.Cowering, I clutched a clump for the journey home. Our return seemed to take much longer. Holding buttercups for the distance required a firm grip so as to not lose any.Wildflowers wilt in a much shorter time than it takes a 6-year-old to walk from Ute Cemetery to the Cowenhoven building. Even as proud as I was to have something pretty for my mother on her special day, I could see that buttercups, before they are picked, are prettier than after they have been mangled by small and sweaty hands. My mother thought they were wonderful. She expressed equivalent excitement the next few years when I repeated the tradition, even though in the absence of my sister, I threw in a few dandelions.If there are any 6-year-olds reading this column, I bet you can still find buttercups near the Ute Cemetery. But dont pick them. Take your mom for a Mothers Day walk and show her. Good as gold.

Tim Willoughbys family story parallels Aspens. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.Yore Aspen is a regular feature of the Aspen Times Weekly.


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