On Thursday I drove down to southern Oregon for work.
Spring is coming in leaps and bounds to the northwest. Last week when we were working in our plots Laurel shouted in surprise, pointing to almost-mature seeds on one of our focal species, Thysanocarpus radians. I looked in shock at the perfect, round disks hanging from the stalks. They were fading from green to beige in the sun, and still ringed in a dark purple. As soon as the purple was gone, the seeds would be ready to collect. This is one of our few plants which is maybe more beautiful in seed than in flower. I loved to look at it, but I had to sigh – if things were already ripening, then fieldwork was going to pick up in the next few weeks, and soon I’d be busier than I could imagine.
As I run through town these days I’m following the smells of spring, because unlike the scrappy wildflowers I study, the bursting blooms of Eugene gardens give off heady scents. My favorites are the flowering trees, drooping their branches into the street as if to snag me. Yes, it is spring. Some days, it’s even sunny.
And so I drove down almost to Medford to check on a population of Thysanocarpus, lovingly dubbed “Thyrad” in our abbreviated naming system, to see if the seeds were ready to collect. After we dried them and sorted them, they would be planted in the plots next fall – assuming we find more grant money to extend the project.
The collection site, Whetstone Prairie, is owned by the Nature Conservancy and is quite beautiful in and of itself. Vernal pools are edged by grasses and, where I was lucky, healthy populations of Thyrad, weighed down by seeds still ringed in purple (phew). Dense thickets of shrubs fill the spaces in between and make navigation from one miniature meadow to the next tricky. I kicked myself for not wearing my rubber boots, because it would have been easier to simply march through the channels between the pools.
In the distance, the Table Rocks loomed. I drove closer to check on a population of another plant, Ranunculus austrooreganus.
And then, I thought, what the heck? I’m here. I’m going up.
Soon I was walking up a path in the bright sun, seemingly leaving behind the moody clouds of Whetstone for the moment. I hiked through different stages of spring. After just over a mile, I suddenly popped over the top and onto the table proper.
It was somehow larger than I had expected. And windy. And bright. Although the Table Rocks aren’t really that tall – I could see much higher features, actual mountains, off in the distance in almost every direction – I felt like I was on top of something magical. It was remarkably flat, and I felt like you could do whatever you wanted up here and nobody would know. It was entirely separated from the rest of the world. I pictured bonfires, dancing around them. Festivals. Maybe a medieval knights’ tournament, complete with tents and banners and jousting. I’ve been reading Trina Schart Hyman books, yes I have. Go buy some. A few of my favorites seem to be out of print and it made me sad.
I hiked across the great flat table towards the other side, and the other Table Rock loomed in the distance.
I stood there, on the edge, looking down the rough and disorganized dropoff. Rather than one clean cliff it was many jumbled into each other, with scraggly trees growing out of the rocks and further down a green forest canopy. A hawk played in the air, swooping back and forth looking for a snack.
I turned around to head back. After all, I was technically playing hooky from work.
My next destination, the field site where we have our plots in Selma, an hour away, would be rainy and cold. I knew it. As I walked down to the parking lot I tried to soak up every last bit of springtime sun. Just because the flowers are growing doesn’t mean that the weather gods are smiling. It takes rain to grow, too.