This afternoon I hiked up to Buttercup Ridge to check on the buttercups. The two plants that had flower buds a week ago still looked just the same, but when I wandered a hundred feet or so further up the ridge, this one was in full bloom. Interestingly, the first blooms there in 2011 were also on February 5th.
Fifteen miles or so up the road to the east of here there is a thin slice of Lolo National Forest land that borders the highway. It’s a steep, rocky, cliffy, brush-choked little column that leads up into the high country along the boundary of the Flathead Indian Reservation.
One January several years ago, for some reason that I can no longer remember, I made a foray up into the area and after about half a mile made a turn to the west up through a channel in the cliffs and arrived at a steep, narrow little ridge that overlooked the valley from about 300 feet above. From the signs left by the animals I could tell that it was a frequent haunt of Big Horn sheep. There was also a surprise; a single buttercup plant already showing a flower bud right in the middle of winter. I chose to call the place “Buttercup Ridge”.
Each January since then I have visited that little ridge and found buttercups with flower buds. (Depending on the weather, they will burst into bloom by around the middle of February.) Just before noon today I visited Buttercup Ridge again and with only a little searching found two plants with nicely formed buds.
The following photos will show each bud, followed by a larger scale photo of where it fits into the foliage on the ridge, hidden in the brown grass of last summer or in the shelter of an Antelope Bitterbush, then a much larger scale photo which includes the more distant background. I have no explanation of why they bloom in this tiny area a full two months before they bloom anywhere else around here.
Since these photos were taken the buttercups have been covered by about two inches of soft wet snow and there is more expected tonight and tomorrow. They will be OK: they are used to it!
After so many days and even weeks of cloudy gray skies, there was a little sun today. Our thermometer recorded a low reading of 13°F last night though and even with the sun it didn’t become a warm day. Still, the appearance of the sun warranted another visit to Buttercup ridge, and that resulted in a look at the first wildflower blossoms of 2012! Apparently even temperatures in the teens don’t discourage the hardy little Sagebrush Buttercups: four were in full bloom.
In a shady place on a cliff just down off the ridge top, Nature had arranged a different kind of display too, an icy one, as a reminder that winter hasn’t yet totally surrendered to spring:
Today was cloudy and cool, not snowing, not raining, not really cold, and not sunny, but I decided to visit Buttercup Ridge, a tiny ridge top where this area’s very first buttercups bloom each spring. And this one is ready, just waiting for the next sunny day:
I had visited there on February 4th, and then it had looked like this:
In addition to the Buttercups, in a small clear place amidst the snow that still blankets most of the ridge, I found that Nature has created a tiny arrangement of lichens and winter moss just for the pleasure of anyone who would take the time and make the effort to visit Her special little ridge.
The month of January was unusually warm in 2009: most of the snow had already melted and it seemed that during the few hours of each day when the sun appeared it had more strength than that time of year warranted. At the end of the month, taking advantage of the mild weather to get in some minor exploring, I ventured into a place I had noticed on the Lolo Forest map. Both sides of the highway east of where I live are almost all private land, except for a tiny spot about a dozen miles away where a slight sliver of the National Forest touches the road.
There is a trail there that was made and is used by deer, elk, sheep, the predators that have aspirations to dine on them and an occasional human hunter who uses the narrow and steep draw through which the trail leads as an access to the much higher ground to the north. It’s a faint little trail, brush-choked and rocky, friendly only to the animals who do not walk erect; a great trail really, because it is one that will never draw a crowd.
As I walked along the trail about a half mile up, I found myself leaving the draw to follow a sheep trail that meandered up a rocky mountainside to my left that was filled with small cliffs and slide rock. It led to the top of a small, sharp-sided ridge several hundred feet above the river, with a narrow, nearly flat top that was covered with grass and sheltered by some big pines. Under the pines, the ground was covered with sheep droppings: they obviously spend a lot of time there, out of sight and out of the wind where they can enjoy every bit of any sun that comes out, with plenty of graze and a great view. It’s my opinion that Big Horns and Mule Deer enjoy the scenic beauty of where they live just as much as I do.
On that sheep trail, just before it topped the ridge, as I looked down to find some solid footing among the rocks and remaining ice, I caught sight of a bit of bright yellow: I was astounded to find a small buttercup in bloom, even before the groundhog made his annual prediction about the status of spring.
Last winter was also unseasonably warm, and an end of January visit met with the same result; one small buttercup just beginning to bloom.
This year, the last of January and the first few days of February will be remembered for the Arctic air that visited the area, producing nights with temperatures well below zero, certainly not what one would consider wildflower weather. However, just to be sure, a trip up that little trail today seemed to be in order and it led me to not one but two buttercups in full bloom. (In any other place where I find buttercups they will not be in full bloom for at least several more weeks.)
They began their bloom with buds at the end of January on Buttercup Ridge. Now the blossoms can be seen nearly everywhere. Today there were thousands on the south-facing slopes of the Coeur d’Alene mountains along the Clark Fork River on the Fourteen Mile trail. Spring has now taken hold!