Living – Places: 33

If people are laughing, they are learning. True learning is a joy because it is an act of creation. – Tyson Yunkaporta, Sand Talk

2021

Due to the pandemic, this has been a year focused nearby. Daily walks around the property have opened my awareness to what is happening right around me.

We enjoyed a dramatic early year sunset this evening. Our deck and the near yard were in total shadow, the clouds to the northeast were dark and heavy, while in between, the foothills were bathed in the softly bright light of the setting sun.

Dramatic early year sunset

When we first moved here twenty-some years ago, we made a set of pathways that wander around the property so that we can enjoy walking among the trees and wildflowers without trampling all over everything. The pathways are bordered on the downhill side with the lichen rocks that are all over the property (yes, this is the "Rockies"!) and lined with a layer of wood chips. Over the years, we have added many more layers of wood chips as they slowly ground down into fine fibers that have, by now, formed a solid mat to walk on.

During the pandemic, we have been walking these pathways every day, and recently decided to add some new segments to the pathway in order to enjoy a bit more variety in our walks. This time, we laid down a foundation of gravel to level it off (we have a long gravel driveway, so always have a pile of gravel available for repairs). In the spring, we'll have a new truckload of wood chips delivered and will finish the pathways with a nice thick layer of them.

Here's one of the segments we just created, splitting off an existing segment, then winding down and across to join another existing segment. I think my arms must be a couple inches longer from carrying the many heavy buckets of gravel down the hill from the pile, but it was worth it! Now I'm really looking forward to the spring when the fresh wild grasses emerge and the many different wildflowers are blooming alongside the pathways!

New pathway segment winding down the hill - first section
New pathway segment winding down the hill - first section
New pathway segment winding down the hill - first section

Couple months later: Wood chips, spring wild grasses:

New pathway segment winding down the hill - first section

And here's a view of another segment of the pathway a couple weeks early than the previous photo, when the wild grasses were just beginning to grow. I love this daily walk! The pathway climbs up and down for about 1/4 mile in length. I typically listen to books as I circle around for an hour or two, looking at all the changes.

Another segment of the pathway, this one winding uphill

We've been enjoying some unusual weather the last few days: cold temperatures (single digits and teens) and foggy. This morning, a silence blankets everything, the sky is white— at times we can't even see across the valley—and the needles on the Ponderosas have slowly been frosting with freezing mist.

Mist frosted Ponderosa

For me, one of the most beautiful things to experience on Earth is early morning sunshine brightening a fresh blanket of snow!

Also, a tidbit of news from this morning, Thursday, Feb 18: 73.2%⩘  of the lower 48 states is currently covered in snow to an average depth of 6″, an 18-year high.

Beautiful early morning sunshine on snow-covered Ponderosas

It has been lightly snowing this morning, with lots of fog, and the cloud cover is thick enough that it's actually quite dark. Then a portion of the cloud cover briefly broke right in front of the rising sun and everything was momentarily bathed in brilliant sparkly brightness, before being quickly cloaked in darkness again.
Wow, I love winter! (There's a bit more about this photo beneath the larger version, which can be accessed by clicking this photo.)

A moment of sparkly brilliance

We had a big snowstorm this past weekend with very wet heavy snow leading to a 24-hour power outage (likely from trees downing power lines). Fortunately, our generator held up just fine, so we stayed warm and our food stayed cold. Then this morning, there were breathtaking post-snowstorm panoramas like this one.

Ponderosas striped with snow on the morning after the snowstorm

Here's another view of what it looked like the morning after.

Another view of the morning after

We had a nice little snowstorm last night, the kind that coats every pine needle and twig. This is the view of the Rocky Mountain Birch right outside the window next to my desk as the morning light filtered through a thin layer of clouds. I tried many times to capture this scene, but could never quite accomplish it; in reality, it was much brighter than this shows. At least this gives a hint of the beauty.

Snowy birch tree

The first Spring Beauties bloomed today alongside fresh wild grasses that have begun poking up. Such a welcome sight after a really long winter!

This year's first Spring Beauties

The day before yesterday, it was sunny and quite warm, the hills were beginning to turn green from the emerging wild grasses, and little wildflowers were popping up all over the place. This morning, it was 12° F, and we awoke to this glorious sight.

April snow shower - 2
April snow shower - 3

I know I already shared a photo of Spring Beauties recently, but since then, we had another freeze and big snowfall, so now that it has warmed up again, it's almost like a second springtime. I met this friendly bunch celebrating the sunshine on my walk this morning.

A fresh cluster of Spring Beauties

These are some things I've been noticing on my recent walks: First, we've had a lot of rainfalls this spring, so things are growing like crazy, including lots of different types of mushrooms. I appreciate mushrooms even more after recently reading Finding the Mother Tree⩘  by Suzanne Simard, in which she discusses the research she has done on the interplay between trees and the mycelium of fungi. I don't know much about fungi, but this one has been popping up mushrooms in the same spot for years now, slowly adding more and spreading out. This spring has been wonderful; in addition to this cluster, there now are two more clusters, one that's several yards away, so I imagine there's a robust network of mycelium hyphae under the surface, perhaps interacting with the nearby ponderosas. Each cap is fairly large, 3″ or 4″ in diameter, and unlike many of the mushrooms that pop up and disappear fairly quickly, these last a long time, at least a couple weeks.

Mushrooms along the pathway

Also on view, a robust lichen colony—my uneducated guess is that it may be Xanthoparmelia⩘ , commonly known as green rock shields or rock-shield lichens. It's amazing to think that this colony is many decades, if not centuries, old.

A robust lichen colony on a rock next to the pathway

Finally, we are enjoying an abundance of native wildflowers this year. Here are some from my recent walks:

Sand Lily threesome
Sand Lily

Prairie Mouse Ear cluster
Prairie Mouse Ear

Blue Mist Penstemon
Blue Mist Penstemon

Spiderwort
Spiderwort

Harebells
Harebells

Wild Blue Flax
Wild Blue Flax closeup

Wild Blue Flax

Mariposa Lily
Mariposa Lily

Sulphur Flower
Sulphur Flower

Wild Rose blooming
Wild Rose

The week since I took the previous photo of the cluster of mushrooms has been very hot, sunny, and dry. Here's a closer shot of one of the caps in that cluster now dried out. I really like the texture, almost like wood grain.

Dried mushroom cap

Ah, the grace of nature. Salsify seeds ready to take flight.

Salsify seeds ready to take flight

I appreciate every phase of the flowering of a Salsify: the flower itself, the enfolding that happens after the flowering, the seeds ready to take flight, and even the star that's left behind.

Salsify seeds ready to take flight

When a friend gave Garima this Banana Yucca (native to southern Colorado) many years ago, it was about 6″ tall. Over the years, as it grew far larger than she had imagined it would, she has had to move the pathway it is next to a couple times to accommodate its exuberance. This is the first time it has flowered.

Banana Yucca in bloom

As I was passing by our fenced garden on my morning walk this morning, I was stopped by the large amount of buzzing I heard. I looked at the poppy plants—there must be three dozen poppy blooms right now—and they were just full of honey bees! It was so cool to see. The bees were landing on the flowers and then wiggling their way down the petals into the center of the flower, almost totally disappearing for a few moments. There must be some really delicious nectar tucked down in there. My heart felt so full in that moment. I worry about the bees, so I was just so happy to see so many of them! And I think this type of poppy must be one of the most visually luscious flowers on our planet, a glorious feast for the eyes.

Poppy flower and honey bees

The Prickly Pears here are one of the most reliable heralds of the start of summer, always blooming right around summer solstice. After a quite rainy spring, the weather here turned abruptly very hot and dry. On top of that, these Prickly Pear are located in a barren place in full sun right near the top edge of a rock outcropping, yet still produce such delicately luscious flowers. Amazing!

Yellow Prickly Pear flowers
More yellow Prickly Pear flowers

There have been so many native wildflowers this spring, I guess because of all the early spring snow and rainfall we had. It's funny, if you stand on our deck or walk along our driveway, all you can really see is the pine trees, the native shrubs like Mountain Mahogany, and the various wildgrasses. But if you wander off into the trees, as our pathways do, there's an abundance of interesting plants, flowers, lichens, mosses, and mushrooms to be discovered nestled among the tall grasses. Here are some of the flowers I came across on my recent walks (there are still more above in an earlier post).

Golden Aster
Golden Aster

Gaillardia
Gaillardia

St. John's Wort
St. John's Wort
(This non-native escaped [temporarily] from Garima's garden; I included the photo anyway because it's such a beautiful flower.)

Spreading Daisy
Spreading Daisy
(There have been thousands of these nestled down in the wild grasses this spring!)

Wild Geranium
Wild Geranium

Yucca glauca
Yucca glauca
(There have been some many flower stalks this spring! Interesting fact: they have just a single, codependent pollinator, the small, off-white yucca moth.)

Strawberry Cactus
Strawberry Cactus
(Most of this type of cacti we have here are the Prickly Pear with yellow flowers; this one has migrated up from southwestern Colorado.)

Milkweed
Milkweed

Purple Prairie Clover
Purple Prairie Clover

Purple Prairie Clover

Bee Balm
Bee Balm

Scrambled Eggs
Scrambled Eggs

Oenothera canescens?
Oenothera canescens?

Not sure who these sweeties are … Oenothera canescens?

Red & white Columbine
One of the many Columbines in Garima's garden

Cinquefoil
Cinquefoil, with its heart-shaped petals

Gumweed
Gumweed

Native Sunflower
Native Sunflower

Nodding onion
Nodding onion

Datura
Datura is a native, though this one is trumpeting in Garima's garden (and yes, we know to be very careful with it!)

Mountain Mahogany
Mountain Mahogany seed plumes glowing in the early morning sunlight

Chokecherry
Chokecherry

There also have been an abundance of mushrooms as we've had many afternoon thunderstorms that have gifted us with lots of rainfall. I can't remember a previous time when we've had this many mushrooms sprouting in early July.

Mushrooms alongside the pathway

First bloom of our Candelabra Cactus this year. This giant ole cactus has been here many decades, well before we arrived. In early summer every year, it bursts forth with hundreds of blossoms. What a gift to the eyes … but don't touch!

Deep pink Candelabra Cactus blossom

We spotted this beautiful Monarch caterpillar enjoying a bite to eat on one of the Milkweed plants in our yard. Hopefully, we'll enjoy the sight of a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis is a few weeks.

Monarch caterpillar feasting on a Milkweed leaf

Summer is waning and lots of late activity is happening.

Milkweed fluff and seed bursting out its pod
Milkweed seed about to take flight

Milkweed seed pod
Milkweed seed pod just as it's first splitting open

Gayfeather flowers
Stems of delicate Gayfeather flowers

Snakeweed flowers
Clusters of Snakeweed are bursting into bloom

Spreading Daisy
Spreading Daisy blooms brighten nondescript plants

Rabbitbrush
Rabbitbrush (a.k.a., Golden Bush)

Lichen rock
A beautiful large lichen rock nestled in drying wild grasses

Maximilian flower
Maximilian sunflowers, one of the last wildflowers of summer
(last night the temperature dipped into the 30s for the first time!)

I love the soft colors of autumn.

Autumn wildgrasses
Autumn oak
Autumn birch
Autumn flaming oak

A week later: the days are getting shorter, a cold wind in gusting, the now rust-colored oak leaves are beginning to take flight off the tree.

Rusty oak leaves

We took a walk along St. Vrain Creek this late afternoon. A cold front is coming in tomorrow with a good chance of a bit of rain/snow, and the winds are quickly knocking the leaves out of the trees, so today is probably the last day of what has been an extraordinarily beautiful autumn.

Late afternoon view along Old St Vrain Road

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