There’s still beauty in this crazy world
Every summer there comes a particular hike on a particular day when you know you’re seeing the best wildflower display of the year. It is a magical, and bittersweet, day.
For me, that occurred last Sunday, on a hike in the Holy Cross Wilderness. This magnificent landscape, one of five wilderness areas surrounding our valleys, is composed of granite rock benches, thick evergreen forests, and innumerable lakes and cascading streams that feed wildflowers like few places in the west.
One hundred and four species was my count for the day. About one-third of them were from the sunflower family. The rest were a mix of both late-season flowers, like alpine fireweed and fringed gentian, and surprising early bloomers, including moss campion and even marsh marigolds, where tenacious snow fields were finally melting.
One hundred and four species is a lot. But that number doesn’t begin to capture the sheer abundance of flowers contained in that mountain valley. In a year when the snow quit in March and there have been precious few summer monsoons, when planet Earth is on track for record-setting temperatures, one could well have predicted a tough summer for the flowers.
And yet, I’ve been hiking in this place and counting these flowers for over two decades now, and this year was as good as any.
Why does this matter? And indeed why, in these challenging, scary times, do wildflowers matter at all?
For a few reasons, perhaps. First, and lest we forget, we are entirely dependent on plants for the air we breathe and the food we eat. No plants, no people. Same goes for animals.
In addition to basic necessities like food and oxygen, we need an occasional glimmer of hope.
When I first moved to the valley 25 years ago, I attended a lecture at the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab in Gothic, where a researcher predicted that Crested Butte, the self-proclaimed “Wildflower Capitol of the World,” would be a sagebrush desert in 30 years, and its annual Wildflower Festival a thing of the past.
Summers like this suggest that prediction was off base. Summers like 2020 reassure us that all is not lost, even as we grapple with the real impacts of climate change.
Finally, I would argue, and I doubt it’s a hard sell for people reading this column, that right up there with food, oxygen and hope is our need for beauty. To me, wildflowers are essential sustenance for the soul.
And wildflowers comprise a particular beauty made all the more poignant by their transience. Revel in the wildflowers while they’re still with us, and be reminded of the privilege of living on this Earth, in this place, in this crazy, sorrowful and ravishing time.