As a born-and-bred city girl, I’ve never had the vocabulary to describe things I see in nature. I can reel off street names and ice cream flavors, but when I walk along a trail I’m left with “little yellow flowers on a bush” or “fuzzy leaves of something or other.” This has been an occasional frustration when I’ve tried to write novel scenes set on the hillsides or beaches that so blessedly surround us here in the Bay Area.
On Sunday I had an opportunity to hike the Matt Davis Trail down the western slope of Mt. Tam to Stinson Beach with Libby Ingalls, a true wildflower expert. This was the first dry morning after a long spate of rain, so everything was moist and happy and the streams were about as full as they get. We’re probably still two or three weeks away from peak wildflower season, so there weren’t an overwhelming number of names for me to learn.
Still, I took photos and wrote down the names to help me remember. Here are some:
The next photo gives a sense of how full the streams were after the rain. A few months from now, some of these won’t be flowing at all.
In our three-mile walk down the side of the mountain, we went through five different habitats — pantoll chaparral, Douglas fir forest, open grassland, bay/laurel woodland, and coast chaparral. The flowers in the previous photos were from the shady Douglas fir forest. Then we came to these in the open grassy meadows:
The California buttercup is very common! But I never knew what it was called.
Of course there were comments about the name of that one, even if we didn’t have any teenage boys hiking with us.
You can see how tiny the popcorn flowers were, from the size of my shoe.
There is Coyote brush all over the coastal hills of the Bay Area. But again, I never had a name for it.
And here we are with Forget-me-nots, from the shady bay/laurel woodland part of the walk. They’re an invasive species from Europe so would be considered “ecologically incorrect.” But they’re so cheerful in their profusion, and their leaves are an almost iridescent green.
This was a strikingly beautiful fungus, but I neglected to ask Libby for the name. Click on the picture for a closer view of the red stripes on the orange background.
At about this point, my camera battery died so I didn’t get pictures of plants from the coast chaparral habitat close to the beach: Eupatory, Bush Lupine, California Sage, French Broom, Echium, Thimbleberry. Those are all common enough that I hope my feeble brain can remember them even without photo reminders.
I often think about how our vocabularies — our entire vision, in fact, and what we do or don’t notice as we go through our days — reflect our environment. Native American children must have learned the names for hundreds of different plants and wildflowers. Meanwhile, I remember my neighbors’ son Daniel coming home from elementary school at the age of 6 or 7 having learned the Nike “swoosh” logo and asking for sneakers with it.
Libby Ingalls donated her guide services on our walk as a benefit for two worthy environmental organizations:
- The California Institute for Biodiversity, founded by my sister-in-law Carol Baird, which provides curricula, teaching materials and teacher training about California ecosystems.
- Great Old Broads for Wilderness. This may be the best name of an advocacy group I’ve ever heard. And the good news is that anyone can be a Great Old Broad, regardless of age, gender or personal greatitude.