The Towering Flowering
I only went out for a walk, / And finally concluded / To stay out until sundown, / For going out I found, Was really going in. — John Muir
No less a color authority than Francis Albert Sinatra once remarked, “Orange is the happiest color.” If he were alive today and living in the desert, I think he would change his tune to yellow. It has been the overwhelming color of renewal throughout Southern California, a not so subtle reminder that if you just add water, the earth comes alive.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a beef with orange. It’s a vibrant color, and the poppy is our state flower. But it doesn’t have the nuance and subtlety of yellow. It seems to run in one tone – bright. Yet there are so many gradations of yellow; soft, pale, warm, rich, golden, and of course, bright as well. And nowhere are these gradations more on display than in this historic Southern California super bloom of 2017.
I have long been a lover of flowers, but it’s usually been the cut variety. I have always found a little pocket money to splurge on them because they brighten the mood of a home. And helps with the ladies. But this year has provided daily, near-orgasmic moments. With those long-dormant seeds finally penetrated by the thick winter deluge, we have had an explosion of wildflowers that many have never seen before, including me. And something has stirred deep within me.
It’s amazing to experience what the natural world can do to nourish the soul. It’s a reminder that the unnatural world – race, religion, politics, etc., are just constructs of the mind and are no match for the awesome feeding that nature provides. You want to cleanse those toxic thoughts? Go sit in a field of purple lupine or orange poppies. Breathe it in and commune with the divine.
I’ve now made pilgrimages to Anza Borrego, Joshua Tree, Whitewater, Red Rock Canyon, and even the poppy reserves in Antelope Valley, and it has been a fusillade of flowers, a fiesta of fragrance, a visual and olfactory smack down of the senses, making me feel alive, grateful, and besotted with the planet in ways I never felt before.
Everywhere you look there are yellow hills, some blanketed, some feathered, and many bearing a variety of yellow flowers, including lotus, brittlebush, sunflower, deerweed, butterweed, matchweed, goldfield, fiddleneck, daisy, yarrow, and of course the devilish mustard.
But no place reached me more than our backyard, the coastal range where no less a flurry of floral delights has surprised me daily. In many ways it has been just as riotous as what I’ve seen in the high and low deserts.
On a recent stroll along Bommer Ridge I came across fields of yellow bush sunflowers known as encilia, delicate white and pink morning glories, deep purple Parry’s, bright orange California Dodders, violet School Bells, and white bushes of California popcorn flower. But one particular ridge afforded something as spectacular as any desert. In between the Boat and Old Emerald trails was a gentle southeast facing slope that was ablaze in glory. An enormous field of bright orange California poppy, dancing with the vertical stalks of bright purple lupine and bushy white popcorn flowers. All preening in the sun, with the emerald green canyons beyond. What a dazzling display of color, in perfect compositions that only nature can arrange. The only sad note was a single black mustard that had planted itself. This non-native invasive, while casting a pretty yellow patina, is actually swallowing up everything in its sight. Still, it’s hard to hate the condiment that has embellished so much delicious deli through the years.
I don’t know the science of it, but seeing bright, saturated colors enveloped in a lush green background, with a painted blue sea and sky beyond, is an absolute therapeutic experience. I can only imagine how the native Americans must have felt when the rains would come and release the seeds into a glorious display of flowers, heralding the arrival of food, medicine, sacraments, herbs, salves, dyes, and tools. Pretty much the essence of life itself. Too bad we have lost our connection with the natural world and are now reduced to buying our goods in big box stores shipped from god knows where.
Enjoy this awesome display while you can. It’s peaking in Laguna. For while this display augers the amazing, regenerative power of nature, it is certainly not a resolution of our ecological crisis known as climate change, or the decimation of environmental protections being wrought by this president.
We will once again return to hot, dry land that is burnt brown and brittle. It’s simply a reminder of the earth and its aliveness – as a possibility, as a metaphor, as a lingering, unfinished story. The flowers’ demonstration that a land’s story can change so unexpectedly fills me with awe, reverence and fear.
Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” Thursday at 8 p.m. on KX 93.5, and can be reached at [email protected]