By Janelle Eklund
A hot wind blew down the Tonsina River valley lifting bluff silt that was born from the Wrangell mountains thousands of years ago. The air was heavy with it obscuring the view of mountain peaks. I swear the temperature was likened to a hot desert wind in the 90°s F. Surely it wasn't that hot but it felt like it. My only gauge was the memory of travels in the hot Utah and Arizona deserts.
Warm temperatures permeated the month of May enticing some plants to spring forth early and take advantage of hot dry days.
In my mind I could hear the dance start in rhythm to Tchaikovsky's symphony beginning with a profusion of purple Pasqueflowers - some popping up in unlikely places. Lupine joined in their blue fluted dress. Delicate calypso orchid spread their fairy slipper pinkness here and there. It got contagious. Joining the dance, in jumped elf like creamy Pumpkin Berry flowers. Jacobs Ladder in blue billowing skirts joined the merry circle. Tiny greenish Soapberry flowers marched in on woody stems. Snow Potentilla twirled around in their bright yellow tutus. Smiley faced yellow Arnicas pirouetted like a pinwheel on a stick. Languid Ladies gracefully bowed their bluebell heads. Bearberry's dangling white bell earrings tiptoed around the forest floor. Labrador Tea, Highbush Cranberry and American Dogwood donned snowy white headdresses tipping in the breeze. Deep Pink Rose permeating the air with its sweet scent. Pale purple bird wings floated in on Alpine Milk Vetch. Artemisia lined the bluffs and roadsides with green fragrant leaves. Eskimo Potato and Wild Sweet Pea tap danced in deep pink frocks, lining roadsides.
And then on May 31, May began to melt. A hint of clouds started shielding the blue sky and the hot sun peaked in and out. The dancers were getting tired in the heat. Clouds covered the sky June first and bits of rain fell here and there throughout the valley. Temperatures dropped to the 50°'s and 60°'s F. We willed the rain to wet the forest and gardens. It came during the day and it came during the night in spurts. Plants drank in the rain as fast as it fell. Rain cleaned the dust of May making plants shimmer in wetness and exposing earthy scented perfumes.
Red flag fire warnings were lifted giving the trees another reprieve and homeowners a sigh of relief.
By June first, rushed plants already show signs of ending the season. Some lupine are turning their flowers into seeds. Rose petals are falling to the ground. What will the rest of the summer bring? Will the high 70°'s and 80°F return? It is a mystery.
Whatever summer brings we will enjoy the sun, be patient with the wind and grateful for it blowing away mosquitoes, be thankful for the rain, and intoxicate ourselves with earthy smells.
From my light to yours-
Copper River Record January 2015
By Janelle Eklund
Before sun showed its face on a winter morning, light from the orb bathed the sky announcing its arrival on pink hued slivers of clouds hanging out on the horizon. The closer it came to rising the more intense the colors. The light arced across the pale blue sky and settled on steel blue clouds on the opposite horizon, marrying pink with steel blue. As I walked down the Old Edgerton this spectacular phenomenon made its entrance in silence. No drum rolls, no dynamic symphony with flutes and violins and harps. But wait, there was an awakening of sounds that seemed to welcome the birth of a new and glorious day. Now and then the slowly rising sun seemed to be greeted by chickadees with their occasional 'chickadee-dee-dee' as they sat on frost laden aspen branch, a distant raven giving a single 'caw', and chatter from squirrel observing from frosty spruce tree. In between the greetings I stopped to listen to see what else I could hear. In the very far distance a smooth rushing sound laid below the silence. My imagination saw and heard the mighty Copper River on its journey to the sea, carrying chunks of its own frozen self rolling and tumbling with its perpetual current.
As I read, listen, and observe, more sounds resound from some of the most enlightening places - like plants. While visiting my sisters in Oregon last July an elder told us she could hear the plants talking. She was out walking past hop fields when she stopped to listen and could hear water being taken up by the long stems of the plants. She said they were having quite the conversation with all the gurgling going on throughout the big field. After we heard the story my sister and I were walking by a field of wheat. The very dry looking wheat stood stark still in the hot sunny windless day. We stopped to listen and to our surprise the wheat was crackling and popping as it continued to dry under the warmth of the sun.
In Robin Wall Kimmerer's book, Braiding Sweetgrass, she says: "I could spend a whole day listening. And a whole night. And in the morning, without my hearing it, there might be a mushroom that was not there the night before, creamy white, pushed up from the pine needle duff, out of darkness to light, still glistening with the fluid of its passage. Listening in wild places, we are audience to conversations in a language not our own." Last summer's rains urged many mushrooms to explode from the ground, as I saw new ones each day on my walk. In the night I missed the silence of their awakening.
Plants make sounds as they grow and change into their different stages."But (as Robin Wall Kimmerer says) plants speak in a tongue that every breathing thing can understand. Plants teach in a universal language: food." Listening to the sounds plants impart is the rushing sound of their need for a healthy home critical for their survival, which we depend on. Think about it. No matter where we are we are surrounded by plants. We eat them, we use them for medicine, we build homes with them, we use them for heat, and they give us inspiration. We would not be here without them. If we give them thanks and respect their health, they will keep reciprocating by giving us life.
From my light to yours-
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.