The view from the parking lot near the top of the famous Idaho Peak! Stunning!
I’m not sure when it dawned on me that there were things called ‘wildflowers’, but I can bet my Mother had something to do with it. She was forever pointing out beautiful things in the world - and at 90 years old, she continues to do so today.
When I was a kid and we lived in Terrace BC on the picturesque Skeena River, my brothers and I used to hike in the surrounding hills - generally looking for good trout fishing spots on the local creeks or behind random beaver dams along those same creeks. I do remember seeing blossoms and berries on those hikes - and in particular I recall seeing the dazzlingly red berry cones of the Devils Club plants that filled the rich understory of those west coast rainforests.
Most recently, the wonder of wildflower came home to me in one of the brightest displays of colour and shape and beauty I’ve ever seen. This was in the alpine meadows of the Kootenay district of British Columbia’s south central interior. I was part of two voyageur canoe crews that were paddling the lakes and rivers of the area for a couple of weeks in 2019.
Paddling along the shores and reaches of the VERY chilly Kootenay lake in British Columbia's Kootenay Region.
On a day off - to do laundry and get groceries etc. - we took a side trip to the famous Idaho Peak. University of British Columbia Professor, Cole Harris, had made the area famous with his ground-breaking academic article called, ‘Industry and the Good Life Around Idaho Peak.’ Here was my chance to explore a bit of that history first hand.
We wove our way up the steep and narrow switchback road above the mining ghost town of Sandon. It seemed we drove forever and, while we were told it was a terrible road, it seems its worst characteristic was that it was narrow - a pretty standard trait for any old mountain road in British Columbia. Someone also mentioned that it would be an interesting test of our vehicle’s braking system on the descent!
We climbed and climbed on until we reached the tiniest of parking lots at about the 7000’ (2100m) elevation. We tucked our two vehicles between a couple others and gave ourselves a few moments to orient ourselves for the couple of hours we’d allotted for our hike. In short order, we were off along the narrow trails that lead back and away from our vehicles and deeper into the alpine reaches of the mountain.
I'm betting that every British Columbia backwoods road is narrow like this and padding another vehicle is 'interesting' !!!
We had only hiked a few minutes when the limited and high elevation tree cover opened up. There before us were steep and sweeping side hills covered in wildflowers! The day was fairly bright at that point, and the flashy colours of the ground cover seemed to roll on before us forever and up the even steeper slopes ahead.
These trails were actually a bit intimidating - I don't get dizzy with heights, but I could easily imagine that if you were quezzy about heights this would set you off!
Our crew slowly hiked on - on one side of the trail, the ground rose sharply above us....on the other side, it dropped off into a green and colourfully flowered abyss. In front, the trail pulled us forward.
As we hiked, I recognized a few of the flowers laid out before us....paintbrush, mountain avens, and mountain heather. What struck me even more strongly was the number of flowers I’d never seen or imagined! Beautiful shades and hues, shapes and sizes.....all of them, as might be expected in tough mountain environments, hugging low to the ground.
I knew right away that I wanted to do some paintings of these flowers; and I also knew that it wasn’t going to happen up there in the alpine meadows of Idaho Peak. First off, some rain clouds were beginning to roll in and, second, I didn’t actually have my Travel Journal with me (unusual for me, I know!!!)
So I took out my iPhone and began to snap photo after photo of the flowers from all different angles. Around every little bend in the trail there seemed to be a new array of wildflowers I’d never imagined. What I couldn’t believe, even more, was a statement from another hiker we ran across who said, ‘Oh, this is nothing! You should see it when it’s in full bloom!’
In the end, I set about using my photo array as my source material for adding some wildflower watercolour sketches in my Travel Journal.
One of the pages in my Travel Journal from the Kootenay paddle trip.
The other thing that spawned from that beautiful alpine hike was a new set of watercolour wildflower pieces that I launched on September 15, 2020. The Covid 19 pandemic precluded doing an actual ‘live’ release of these works - so the next best thing was an online launch from my website.
In total, there are just under 30 pieces currently in this series - and a few of them are multiples. Chokecherry, for example; there are two pieces I’ve painted.....so you see they aren’t all actually ‘flowers’!
My artistic goal here was to find a way of distilling the look and feel, the ‘character’ of each plant/flower/berry without moving fully toward some kind of formal ‘botanical illustration’ style. I wanted a freehand feel and a more loose style that still captured the subject in unambiguous ways. I also wanted to find a visual ‘trick’ to help the viewer keep their focus on the actual flower/berry. So I framed the flower and only painted what was inside the ‘frame’. In reality, our minds fill in the rest of painting’s colour anyway.
I call this a series of BC Wildflowers, but for those who are steeped in the botanical and scientific side of things, this series is clearly more than that. There are invasive species here (Mullein, for example), and I realize that there are so many variants of some of these species. Still, each piece is based on a live specimen, or a photo I took of that specimen, and each piece came from British Columbia.....hence the title.
Undoubtedly, this will be a recurring theme for me as I do my hiking trips and paddling trips and other random ‘travels’. Each new place, it seems to me, has its own unique suite of wildflowers colouring up the landscape. Tucked low against the earth, I find it hard to think of them as ‘under foot’ - despite keeping to the trail networks. They are a wonder - and especially so, it seems to me, at such high elevations.
This will be a treat for you if you venture vertically in British Columbia (and many other place too, for that matter). So give yourself a treat - go and hike and see what you’ve been missing. (And stick to the trails - it’s a respectful thing to do). :-)
Please enjoy these new views of wildflowers that are so common at elevation - if we weren’t at the height of the wildflower season....I wonder what I’ve been missing???
Enjoy your fragile world, and have a look at the full collection on my website at:
This is the title page for my Travel Journal from the Kootenay paddle trip - based on the geographic profile in this blog's first photo. :-)