We may be subject to another 6 weeks of winter (you know, because today is a cross-quarter day which means it’s 6 weeks to the equinox) but I’m dreaming of seeing these little flowers emerge again.
Yes, today is Groundhog day whereby we get to contemplate the weather-forecasting abilities of a rodent that lives underground. It’s also a cross-quarter day – half-way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox – which means that tomorrow we’re more than half-way through the winter season and looking forward to the official start of spring.
Of course, plants and animals don’t know that we humans have divided the year in this way, and they show their recognition of the lengthening days and warmer (!) weather by beginning to grow new shoots or singing the first songs of courtship and staking territorial claims. One aspect of hiking that I particularly enjoy is how we follow spring up to higher elevations through the season. Beginning at sea level with the first flowers in the city – I always look forward to seeing witch hazel bloom in January – before moving on to the forest flowers that bloom in April (yes, even the skunk cabbage), and up to the alpine flowers from June onwards.
My favourite (as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before) is the glacier lily and I really like trying to catch the very first wave of these in bloom. For me, they signify the beginning of the best part of the hiking season: the opening up of the alpine areas and witnessing the last gasp of winter at those high elevations.
Last year our timing was perfect; the road up to Blackwall Peak in Manning Park opened up the weekend we went there to hike another trail. Unable to resist, we walked the short Paintbrush Trail (you may recognize the above flowers in that post too) where the glacier lilies were only just beginning to bloom, the snow barely melted from around them. It was glorious. And with so many flowers so close to the trail, I could take my pick of photo opportunities. We left with many photos, dirty wet knees, and cold wet feet. A perfect day, in its own way.
Getting these photos is hard: the flowers are only a few inches tall at this early stage which means getting down on hands and knees. A tilting screen makes a big difference but it’s still easier to look through a viewfinder (and usually more stable, unless the camera is on a tripod – which is almost never the case for us). It helps that the main camera we were using (the Nikon D3200 with the kit lens) is able to focus at quite close distances even at full zoom. Coupled with 24 million pixels, it becomes possible to capture some tiny details on these flowers even without a macro lens. Then it’s a matter of finding the right flower with just the right shape, with just the right amount of water beading on it…
Life will find a foothold wherever it can – a lovely triangular patch of cheery pink moss campion high on Finch Ridge.
Moss campion always catches my eye. It’s one of the few flowers in the high alpine, finding places to grow among rocks and dirt and not much else. Most often, it creates a little pillow of green from which the cerise flowers emerge, though it’s extremely rare for the flowers to cover more than half of the foliage at any one time. Earlier on the day this photo was taken, I found one completely pink patch right in the middle of a field of shattered rock; a real treat. But then I found this little near-equilateral triangle of pink and green, which was just perfect. All I had to do was make sure I stood to one side so my shadow wouldn’t fall across it.
More meadows for floral Friday – paintbrush joins in the show on slopes below Tenquille Mountain.
Another photo from last weekend’s trip to Tenquille Lake, attempting to capture the beautiful meadows we walked through as we headed up to Finch Ridge. I really like the fact that parts of the mountain are visible above the flowers, lending a sense of drama and a sense of vertical scale, and providing contrast between the green meadows and the stark rock. Of course, this was composed through the camera viewfinder with its 3:2 aspect ratio; Instagram’s more limited vertical extent has cut out some interesting clouds at the top and more flowers at the bottom, but it just about works for me. The zig-zag paths of the lines in the flowers and the creek bed help. I actually preferred an alternative photo, but it lost too much from being restricted vertically. But this one is still pretty nice for a second choice.
The only fire I wanted to see at the weekend – backlit paintbrush in the afternoon.
There’s a campfire ban in BC at the moment, which is fine with me as I don’t really care much for them. It’s much nicer to camp without all the smoke and haze to be honest. I couldn’t help but think of fire when I saw these paintbrush lit by the later afternoon sunshine; fire from the sun, and fire-red paintbrush. What you can’t tell from this photo is how many mosquitoes and black flies I was having to keep at bay while lying face down, shielding the lens from the glare of the sun and trying to keep the camera steady…
A departure from the usual posting style. Since I saw so many glacier lilies at the weekend, I figured it would be best to combine all those photographs into a single, all-encompassing glacier lily entry. Let the floral overload begin!
We spent the weekend in Manning Park, and found – to my delight – that the glacier lilies were out in force. Here’s one of many in bud we saw last Sunday near Blackwall Peak, beautifully decorated with raindrops. I was surprised to see them blooming even by the roadside on the way up to Blackwall Peak, and we were further surprised by two yearling bear cubs darting across the road ahead of us!
On Saturday we hiked the Skyline I loop, a 21-km hike with 900+ m of elevation gain. We’d been happily enjoying the wealth of blooms along the trail, but then we entered the last big meadow before turning back towards the car. This might be the most spectacular glacier lily meadow I’ve seen so far! Wow!
A trail runs through it – the path through the vast meadow in the previous photo is barely a boot wide, the glacier lilies and spring beauty doing their best to recolonize it. I looked back at photos I took of this section of the trail in August 2007 and there is no sign of glacier lilies anywhere.
And yet more glacier lilies along the Skyline I trail. There was still a bit of snow in places along the ridge but it’ll soon be gone. I find it amazing how so many can grow and yet all signs of their existence disappear once the main summer bloom gets underway. I’m convinced that most hikers never even see a glacier lily over the summer.
Finally, it’s Flashback-Friday, and I thought I’d finish this week of glacier lily photos with the flower that started it all – my very first glacier lily photo from way back in 2006!
That last shot has a lot to answer for…
Couldn’t resist going back for another photo session with the fawn lilies 🙂 I even found a pink one! And yes, just one, hiding out among the false lily-of-the-valley.
I just knew it would happen – the draw of documenting this year’s fawn lily display was too strong and I headed over to Lighthouse Park once again with a bit of time in hand so I could crawl around on wet moss and grass in my attempts to capture the perfect flower photo. Quite a few of the flowers were past their peak, and one patch in particular that I was hoping to capture had already flowered and were now well into their seed-pod phase. But I still found plenty to admire, plus I found a couple of new patches off the beaten path to carefully investigate next year.
After my recent escapades with getting flower photos I’ve decided that our next camera absolutely must have a tilting or articulating/fold-out screen. It’s simply impossible to look through a viewfinder that’s anywhere from 4 to 12 inches off the ground without getting wet, muddy, or trampling other plants. I used Live View on the SLR for framing where possible, but even then it’s hard to see a 3-inch (vertical) screen so close to the ground. Worse, the reflections off the screen make it almost impossible to see what you’re framing, what the camera’s focusing on, or what you’ve taken. So once again I ended up using the compact camera for more shots than I expected, despite it being trickier to focus correctly (by which I mean it’s harder to get it to focus on the correct subject).
But as I mentioned above, this visit had one little surprise in store for me. As I walked back to the parking lot, I noticed something pink at the far edge of a patch of false lily-of-the-valley behind a big cedar. I leaned against the split-rail fence, zoomed in, held the camera at arm’s length and took a snap just for the record. It really did seem to be the only one as I couldn’t see any other leaves. I’ll be sure to look out for that again on future visits, and, if no one’s looking, I just might hop the fence for a closer look…
I hadn’t appreciated just how cute the tiny florets of palmate coltsfoot could be, especially since it’s quite a straggly-looking plant that favours wet, swampy conditions
I was pleased to find this flower a few years back (and posted a photo last spring as well) on account of it being a favourite of a late friend of ours, but I had to admit I didn’t really see the attraction. It doesn’t grow in pretty areas – I’ve mostly found it in boggy ditches – the flower head looks kinda messy, like it’s unravelling, and the overall impression is of an unforgettable flower. So when I saw them growing this year along the Capilano Pacific trail, I stooped to take a few snapshots (more out of a sense of duty than anything else) but didn’t really pay close attention to what I was photographing.
It was only when I got home and looked through the handful of photos that I realized what I’d got: for once, I’d captured the coltsfoot flower at the moment it actually blooms. All I’d seen before was just the pre-bloom flower when the florets look like budding dandelions (or similar). The tiny pink-and-white florets are really quite pretty little star-like flowers. So maybe that’s why our friend liked them so much? Either way, it’s given me a whole new appreciation of this flower, and I’ll be on the lookout for its alpine relative when it blooms later in the year.