In the canyon of the Wenaha River, distance is sufficient to make the sable slopes seem like fur. At foot, however, the volcanic stone is rough. This stone, where it outcrops, is matte umber, and, yet, I can think that and then see a cleanly split stone with sun sheen and a glaze of yellow ochre dotted with bright yellow. At hand, when we stop for a moment, I find retted rock banded in red that looks as if it had been held together by rubber bands. Another stone might have had cans first of pink paint and then green paint dumped on it.
The first blush of fresh green is on the slopes. We find biscuit roots with their balls of flowers tucked inconspicuously among crispate leaves, pale leaves of waterleaf waiting for their flowers to emerge, star-like leaves of lithophragmas, and one little, leaning bluebell with a line of pendant, open flowers. A few shiny buttercups sit among the rocks. In nearly barren patches of moist soil, where thin vegetation lies matted, where I imagine snow must have lain until recently, fritillaries stand, their flowers nodding. In the thatch of last year’s dried grasses are threadlike stems of spring whitlow grass, which is actually a tiny mustard, that bears small white flowers—these are now like white dots, closed today, atop the thin stems.
The flush of buds gives a rufous cap to the still leafless cottonwoods. The silvery gray cottonwoods stand on the river’s beaches, and we see them largely from above. The trail, except for a short traverse through a moist meadow on muddy path, holds to the slope well above the river.
A helicopter flies up the canyon and then back about fifteen minutes later. Soon it returns upriver, but holds short of us, sitting over a side canyon before moving up to the next side canyon, which is opposite us. We scan the slope below the helicopter for animals for which we assume they are searching. Three bighorn sheep burst from a rock outcrop, but they run only a few years—stop—then run again, going up slope toward the protective cover of conifer forest. The helicopter remains. Its motor drones, and its blades chop the sky. Twacktwacktwack.