Winter lingers. Little squalls of snow come most days. Despite the persistence of cheek-turning cold and wintery precipitation, the hillsides show the changeover to spring.
The past two weekends, I have driven up the Clearwater River from its confluence with the Snake. Two weeks ago, the slopes above the Clearwater had only patchy green. The rest was the brown remains of vegetation dried last summer and matted over the winter. Much of the green was the fern-leafed desert parsley (Lomatium dissectum). This desert parsley forms dense populations on the steep south-facing slopes above the river. Two weeks ago, its finely dissected leaves made airy balls—larger than a softball but smaller than a basketball—that spotted the slopes. Sticking through center of most leaf balls was a stiff inflorescence, an umbel of small yellow flowers just above the leaves. There weren’t enough of the flowers for the yellow to have much presence on the hills. The hills above the Clearwater become more yellow, when the balsamroots (Balsamorhiza sagittata) bloom. Two weeks ago, the balsamroots were no more than soft spots on the slopes. Their fuzzy, white-haired leaves were up but still rolled rather that offering much lamina to sunlight, and there were no heads of open flowers.
Last weekend the hills above the Clearwater River had both yellows and whites. The sunflower yellows of the balsamroots were out. Over the week, the heads had curved up and over to face south, and they had expanded, popping-out ray flowers. The slopes were forming islands of yellows among the greening grasses—their were the sunflower yellow islands of the balsamroots and bigger, paler yellow islands of the fern-leafed desert parsley, whose flower stalks were two feet or more in length.
The whites on the hills were serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), Lewis’s mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii), and hawthorn (Crataegus). On the dry hills, which have steppe vegetation, composed of grasses, herbaceous perennials, and small shrubs, the whites run up the ravines. These ravines collect a little extra water, providing an abode for the head high shrubs of serviceberry, mock orange, and hawthorn. These three make lines of big white dots at the bases of the hills, where the sharp slopes meet flood plain, where water also collects.
This weekend, I shall return to the Clearwater River, going beyond its middle fork, where I anticipate the scents of the white flowers. I look forward to the sweet, fruity scent of the mock orange and to skunky late afternoon scent of the serviceberry if those afternoons become warm. Yes, I look forward to the scents of flowers on a warm afternoon.