By Linda Colvin, Esther Bricques Winery
A short jaunt about the property this past weekend revealed the opportunity to see things as we rarely do in that moment when all the flora of our native Okanogan sage steppe lands goes through the rapid transitions we usually miss – budding.
We have taken to a not-so–daily routine of walking the eastern perimeter of the vineyards in search of renewed evidence of success in our battle against what became an invasion last fall from our local then-resident herd of deer. We have expanded our mission to that of much-needed exercise, and it has become a habit to take the phone. No, reception isn’t that much improved, but there is a handy little install that keeps track of the ‘mileage,’ inspiring me to keep closer scrutiny on my daily routine. Thus the background for my “walk on the wild side.”
Such a walk of course begins in the more botanically domesticated environs of the winery grounds, where I immediately caught sight of our Norway maples in bloom, but never have I looked so closely or with camera in hand. Both bud and actual bloom are spectacular and the phone lens began its documentary of revealing what I can now go back and revisit throughout the year, but would have missed had I waited a day.
Two more truly flowering shrubs caught me before I ever left the grounds – the lilacs and the stellate magnolia. Certainly their buds portend of the magnificence yet to come, but what an amazing perspective of the protective features that get them through the chilly mornings that lead up to full bloom.
Moving on, I began my little walk on the wild side, where the deer have worn all too visible paths through the sage scrub regions that we have left alone and not converted to grape production or watered beyond what the seasons provide. And while this year is extraordinary in its temperatures and timings of sun and rain, I seem to have lucked out in spotting features I know are there but don’t usually catch at the beginning.
The first of these surprises I had never noticed before were the catkins from the aspens. I always fuss over the pussy willows in the creek bed, but never realized the extent of the fuzzy offspring of the aspens until this journey when I kept my eyes on the ground. Scattered like caterpillars in my path, I had to take out my phone and photo them, almost believing that they would get up and walk ahead of me.
I looked in the trees themselves moments later and found them swinging in the breeze. Only after consulting resources did I discover that aspens are single sex and since all the trees in a grove are considered one organism through their root connections, they are the same gender. Apparently, our glen is female.
At the feet of the aspen is one of my favorite shrubs for which we have named the first of the vineyards – mahonia, or Oregon grape. The brilliant lemon yellow buds make a beautiful contrast to the robust leaves looking so much like holly. Would that one could make a wallet or belt out of what appears to be green leather.
And just beside them the young serviceberry shrubs are in bloom. But I lucked out – again, I found buds not yet open that I would never have recognized out of context, and within reach of the lens of the phone – no telephoto options here!
As I left the path in the glen, I immediately encountered the arrow-leaved balsalm root, once again in bud. This was not hard to identify because of the leaf shape, but minus the cheery yellow blooms yet to happen, I had to hearken back to last summer to envision what is about to happen in that spot. But I am starting to see a theme of fuzz in these structures.
A few steps away as I moved further out of the glen and up the oh-so-obvious deer trail,
I encountered little upright blades of “grass” of several varieties that I believe will be sorts of lily-like plants. Clearly nibbled upon by the deer, the buds abound, and the more I looked, the more of them I found. Any day they will burst into bloom and reveal their true but so transitory nature.
One of the amazing features of this area is the proximity of cactus and moss growing within feet of each other. The mosses astonish me, (unlike the cactus caught on my pant legs), producing beds of comfort under the ancient sage “trees” of this area. I have found five or six varieties growing in the same patch.
I couldn’t resist lying down on one of these beds under the sage, only to find more surprises of buds about to open.
I have always spotted the shooting stars in bloom,
but have never seen them in bud.
With them were other buds I haven’t identified for certain but look much like a version of Queen Anne’s Lace.
Already in bloom, meaning I missed the buds, are tiny little saxifrage whose 4-leaf clover -like leaves hunker down in the moss and appear so very insignificant.
Once I started looking more closely and grabbing every interesting shot I could with the phone, I had to stop and include a closeup of the lichens. They don’t bloom, but they are such a predominant feature on the rocks and old growth of the area, they are so worth looking at up close in their immense variety. Clearly this old sage has provided homes for many different organisms either on it or under it.
I have to admit that by now, I have really been crawling under shrubs rather than actually walking anywhere and I have covered only 50 feet. But before I was ready to journey onto a true distance, one more feature caught my eye. The mosses won me over once again, this time a different variety. Now mosses don’t “bloom,” as they are ancient enough that they developed in the days before flowering plants, but they still reproduce. And this colony of sporophytes is clearly doing a great job of making sure that the next generation of gametophytes is in the future. Again, I have never caught this fleeting moment of development in such abundance.
I shall retake this journey in a few days to see the grand symphony of color that heralds nothing of the subtlety of the hints of buds. But both are to be appreciated, and I have already warned that this little region of land is not to be trampled, or modified or farmed in any way. Now if I could only convince the deer to leave this area alone!
Linda Colvin Bio:
Linda and Steve Colvin are the owners, growers, and vintners of Esther Bricques Winery, nestled slightly above the sunny Okanogan Valley floor in northern Washington State. Together they make their Okanogan winery a home away from home for every visitor who encounters their intimate setting. And they are testament to the fact that science and math do go well with wine. High school science and math teachers by day, Linda and Steve devote the rest of their energies to their winery, its products, and its experiences.
Photos by Linda Colvin