Day 20, homeward bound. Riding the Blue Ridge Parkway from Benge Gap in Ashe County, south 155 miles to State Road 215 in Haywood County. Ten blissful wildflower hours. Twelve devotional stops for opportunities like this. Over dosing with infatuation. 12:30 pm. Three Knob overlook near Crabtree Meadows, milepost 339. While flat on my back, conducting myself like any prototypically aggressive advanced amateur photographer would under the circumstances, camera aiming skyward up the rock face, isolating a goatsbeard floating on the draft, a curious question echoed about, “What kind of flower is this?” Craning my surprised neck from ground level, scanning, locating and focusing, “Water parsnip,” I echoed like a sonar blip. He patted me on the back for that one, satisfied and a bit avuncular. Such was my upturned introduction to Harry Ellis, resident of Bakersville in Mitchell County. Wildflower photographer for 40-years. Extensively published in outdoor photography magazines. He had a trunk full of exhibits, too. Covers, articles, essays. Beautiful eye-popping work. I felt small and inadequate. He even showed me a shot of trout lilies growing on a tree branch. Remarkable, trout lilies don’t grow in trees!! I turned off my camera and replaced the lens cap.
Looking back on that day, I wish Harry Ellis could see this shot.
How much do I really need to know about the Common Milkweed. It oozes white latex when broken. It’s fibers can be used for cordage and textiles. It was a Native American apothecary. It’s young shoots can be eaten. Just avoid the resinoides, glycosides, and alkaloids. Otherwise the hapless consumer can expect dullness, weakness, bloating, inability to stand, high body temperature, rapid pulse, breathing difficulty, dilated pupils, spasms and eventually coma. Not a problem for the Monarch butterfly, however, which draws its existence exclusively from the Milkweed’s resources. Even its toxicity helps deter Monarch predators. This escaped me at 7:50 am on a delightful sixty-four degree morn after photographing a stunning Canada Lily a ways back, for the third time ever, after a fine night at the North River camp, tailgate open, breezes breezing, peepers peeping, hoot owls hooting, and the waning campfire flickering about. None registered as I gazed deeply into the interior of this radiating universe absorbing its exotic emanations and fantastical penumbras.
I’m just saying! The wildflower hunt is no piece of Key Lime pie. Drive for days, hundreds of miles. Scan every bank and fence line. Search for specks of color. Hump. Suffer heat stroke and seat rot. Develop that thousand yard stare. Blank and robotic. Then, suddenly, scrunched down in the weeds there it is. In this case Butter-and-eggs, the Yellow Toadflax. I first saw Butter-and-eggs years ago in the village of my childhood. Thriving in cindery soil by the railroad. I thought it delightfully beautiful then, and still do. Welsh Quaker Ransted imported the species to this country in the mid-1800s. He appreciated the showy flower in his garden; others did too. From garden to garden. Then, evidently, from garden thru fence to plowed field. Then from plowed field to pasture, road to railroad, forest to prairie to dune to every place on the continent with disturbed soil. Published articles hurl hurtful words like invasive, toxic, avoidance, herbicide, infestation with unfriendly intentions. Maybe that’s why it’s named Linaria vulgaris. Fascination of my childhood. Will someone please say something nice about the Yellow Toadflax. After all, wildflowers can be misunderstood, too.
Canada thistle is an herbaceous perennial with erect stems 1½-4 feet tall, prickly leaves and an extensive creeping rootstock. Stems are hairy, and ugly. Leaves are lance-shaped, irregularly lobed with spiny, toothed margins. Rose-purple flower heads appear from June through October and occur in rounded, umbrella-shaped clusters. Canada thistle threatens natural communities including prairies, barrens, savannas, glades, sand dunes, fields, meadows and all disturbed soils. This highly invasive thistle prevents the coexistence of other plant species through shading, competition for soil resources and the release of chemical toxins poisonous to other plants. Canada thistle produces abundant seeds easily dispersed by the wind. Most germinate within a year, but some may remain viable in the soil for twenty years or more. Vegetative reproduction is aided by a fibrous taproot capable of sending out lateral roots as deep as 3 feet below ground, and from which shoots sprout up at frequent intervals. Canada thistle is declared a "noxious weed" throughout the U.S. and has long been recognized as a major agricultural pest, costing tens of millions of dollars in direct crop losses annually and additional millions costs for control.
USE PESTICIDES WISELY: ALWAYS READ THE LABEL CAREFULLY FOLLOW MIXING INSTRUCTIONS AND WEAR PROTECTIVE GEAR.
Hillsboro for lunch. Depart 1:55 pm, Cr 29 Lobelia Road nw. Belly still on fire from the Rosemary Potato Stew; a case of very poor judgment. The way ahead is swept by a rash of sudden storms. Each ending before it begins. It’s splash and go, splash and go creating, for my delight, a steamy concoction of mist and fog, a visual atmosphere that no photo filter could ever hope to duplicate. How better to see the bluebird, then two deer bounding into the damp woods. How better to admire the intimate curves and fence lines, the old Odd Fellows Lodge at Lobelia and the wreath upon Hill’s Chapel door fluorescing in the silver light. Even the mower-man seems other worldly, eyes targeted, bush hog blade and multi-jointed arm reaching, growling and ripping. I call him Slash…
“There!” Eyes are staring at me. I’m the one that usually does the looking. Here, I see eyes looking back. The truck splashes to a sliding stop. (3:20 pm, mile 783.1) Right away I know it’s White Beardtongue - proud member of the Beardtongue Brotherhood that includes first cousins Purple and Gray. They seldom grow two feet tall. These Whites are four and five; chin level and taller. Gargantuan. The flowers are pumped too, oversized and bulging. An impressive and commanding display. Mesmerized, I marvel. I look closely at each flower, then touch and carefully rearrange them. Clear away a few weeds. Snap pictures in the breeze. Fuss around. Searching, searching for ways to speak. For I know too well what soon will be headed this way.