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Field Notes

Covering the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest

April 22, 2013 at 7:00 AM

Wildflowers now in bloom in Columbia River Gorge

We’ve waited, and now we get our reward: Wildflowers are just coming into bloom. Need some sun and flowers? Head to the Columbia River Gorge to enjoy the spectacular bloom now underway. I met up with long time native plant activist Rob Cavanaugh of Olympia last week at his camp in the Klickitat, where he has enjoyed the spring bloom every year for some 35 years.

Rob Cavanaugh heads out from his camp to enjoy the wildflowers at the peak of spring bloom. Note his carved and painted staff, a trusty friend.  Photo by Douglas MacDonald

Rob Cavanaugh heads out from his camp to enjoy the wildflowers at the peak of spring bloom. Note his carved and painted staff, a trusty friend.
Photo by Douglas MacDonald

He very often takes his paints along for a little en plein air appreciation. This time, he kept it simple and just showed up with Ceasar, his terrier, and his camping gear. He was planning to stay several weeks, just to enjoy the flowers, and whatever might come with each day. Perhaps the call of a great horned owl, or mid-air ballet by pairs of courting ravens.

He’s got a folding chair set up on one hillside from which to watch the sunrise on Mount Hood. “I sit up on that little knoll, and in the morning the mountain looks strawberry ice cream,” Cavanaugh said. “The sun hits it first.”

His timing, of course, was geared to the flowers. And did he ever hit it right. The sunny yellow balsamroot was painting entire hillsides.

Sunny balsamroot in full bloom in the Klickitat region of the Columbia River Gorge.  Photo by Douglas MacDonald

Sunny balsamroot in full bloom in the Klickitat region of the Columbia River Gorge.
Photo by Douglas MacDonald

Blue lupine was just coming into bloom, its palmate leaves spangled with rainwater. Rounded and jiggling water beads shone like a lens in the base of the leaves.

Lupine leaves cup the spring rain. Photo by Douglas MacDonald

Lupine leaves cup the spring rain. Photo by Douglas MacDonald

Mixed in with the balsamroot and lupine was the white plume of death camas, so named because it is toxic if eaten. Look, but don’t touch.

Death camas is named for its potent toxicity. Photo by Douglas MacDonald.

Death camas is named for its potent toxicity. Photo by Douglas MacDonald.

Part of what made the setting so beautiful were the groves of Garry Oak, also known as Oregon White Oak. Found in the transition zone of the Columbia River Gorge, where dry meets wet, the intricate branching patterns of the trees, cloaked on their wet sides with moss, was a rare treat. We do not see these trees but in rare patches in Washington.

Seeing Oregon white oak, or Garry oak, is a rare treat in Washington. Photo by Douglas MacDonald.

Seeing Oregon white oak, or Garry oak, is a rare treat in Washington. Photo by Douglas MacDonald.

Here’s more on these beautiful trees from the Washington Native Plant Society.

Cavanaugh roamed the hills leaning on his trusty painted staff, and with a few Stellar’s jay feathers tucked in his hat band. Mud boots protected his pants from the tall wet grass. His clothing was camo and his tent too, but make no mistake, he’s pure Ferndinand.

“You feel you are really a part of nature here, not more important than the flowers or the trees,” Cavanaugh said. “I can just be a brother to the balsamroot.

“I don’t count the minutes, I don’t wear a watch, Time is when day breaks, or when it gets dusk, and then, I get to hear the owls.”

Lupine and balsamroot are the perfect compliments to one another. Photo by Douglas MacDonald.

Lupine and balsamroot are the perfect compliments to one another. Photo by Douglas MacDonald.

 

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