Looking For Some Grass

I headed up the Rattlesnake Saturday because the story is the beargrass is blooming this year, and I figured I knew exactly where to find some. To my recollection it is the first time I ever went out into the woods specifically on the hunt for some kind of plant or flower. I found it, along with many other blooming, beautiful wildflowers. The smell in the largest concentrations of them was intoxicating. It was a perfect day outdoors; several hours of sunlight, shade, and the sounds and smells of the natural world. It is a kind of soul work, have no doubt.

As for beargrass, this is from the wonderful reference book Rocky Mountain Natural History: Grand Teton to Jasper by Daniel Mathews:

Once you’ve seen beargrass in bloom you will have no trouble ever recognizing its wonderful flower heads again. But the flowering schedule is erratic. You often see only the bunched leaves. Communities of beargrass may go for years without one bloom — and then hundreds bloom at once. That often happens for several years in a row after a fire that reduces the tree canopy but leaves the soil cool enough for the beargrass roots to survive and resprout. Like the century plant, beargrass clumps grow slowly, accumulating photosynthates for years before venturing a flowering stalk. Having flowered, the clump dies, but its nutrients are siphoned off through the rhizome to a new offset clump.

Spring’s tender leaf bases figure in bear diets, hence “beargrass’; but the neatly clipped leaf bases you see here and there are more likely the work of a “brushpicker” gathering foliage for the florist trade.

By summer the leaves are wiry and strong. Native Americans wove them into baskets and hats.

Mathews writes more, but you get the idea. Speaking of hats, it was the trial run of my new Filson hat, which I think is quite snappy. Here are some shots from the outing, including the initial, post-tag removal moments of me under my hat.

A Shocking Experience

Monday night at Beargrass we had just finished dinner and folks were drifting from the dining area to the main room where readings were held. My friend Richard Fifield, author of the excellent debut novel Flood Girls, was to be reading soon. A wind had come up outside, and though the sky visible from the back of the lodge was still only broken with clouds, it was growing darker, and the trees in the yard and down the hill were beginning to sway with some vigor.

I joined a couple friends on the covered porch out back. Rain was just barely starting to fall. There is a ten-foot or so span of grass that separates the main grounds from the hill that slopes away down to the Blackfoot River. I stepped about midway out into it to look up at the sky to see what the clouds were doing.

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I turned just as the tall pine tree to the right in that photo was struck by lightning. It was maybe forty or fifty feet away and down the slight slope. I’ve never experienced anything like it for violence and power. I can close my eyes and see the forks of the strike envelope the tree; bark explodes, light and colors and sounds and heat blow against me. The hairs of my arms stood on end, my mouth and teeth had that kind of weird electric taste to them, and smoke billowed all around the tree.

The other two recoiled; I just sort of stood there, oddly calm, but I think I was stunned a little because I was surprised when the other people from all around the lodge and ranch area came running. Folks clear on the other side of the building were in awe of what they saw, and they weren’t anywhere near the point of impact. Most startling was the utter lack of warning. The storm seemed to come out of nowhere, and I don’t recall hearing any distant thunder or anything at its approach. One minute it was windy, and just starting to rain, and the next, BOOM!

The storm passed quickly, and we went down to look at the tree. Several scars twisted all around it. A single split ran from the base all the way up to the top, spiraling around the tree’s diameter. Pieces of blackened bark were scattered all about, as were strips of scorched inner bark. I almost didn’t believe that that tree, so close, was the one that had actually been struck until we all went and looked at it.

The next morning I took some photos. They probably aren’t as interesting to anyone who wasn’t there, but for the rest of us, it was an unforgettable experience.