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  • Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place


California newt - a sure sign of spring.

Spring wildflower mosaic, Colusa County, CA

Spring is here - with her rain, hail, frosts, sun! In the garden and on the trail. The native bees - solitary and bumble varieties - are waking up: hungry; hummingbirds and migrating butterflies, too. And the flowers are replying with plenty this year here. It's like seeing old friends after too long a time, isn't it? They start to bloom each in their turn and you think, "ahhhh! There you are! It's so nice to see you...."

I think in most places there are the famously spectacular spots to go visit wildflowers, and I am guessing no matter where you're reading this from, you've heard of the big bloom areas - the SUPER BLOOM - areas in California again this year, after a fiery fall across the state followed by a wet winter. A few springs back, John and I made the trip down to the Carrizo Plains National Monument to camp among the blooms that year. It was breathtaking - the diversity, the volume, the sheer intensity of it. And we loved it - not better than our local wildflower bloom and diversity, but different. It felt like a big, happy, noisy flower-family reunion in some ways, where you meet old friends AND make new friends/family members.

A LOT of other people loved the SUPER BLOOM areas that year, too, and as with this year, it brings up some tricky issues and concerns - asking all of us to weigh the balance between raising awareness AND/OR drawing destructive attention and pressure to places we want to love and protect - not trample and overwhelm.

To #geotag or not to #geotag. That's just one of the questions. #Geotagging is the practice of tagging your digital images on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc., or other digital environments, to allow viewers of the image to see where you were and go there too. As a rule, I don't geotag my images, although I try to locate in caption information the county or general area I am in so that readers, listeners, viewers get a sense of the broader place, and feel encouraged to get out into their own places and appreciate the details and wonders there. Geotagging is often blamed for the mass human visitation, and subsequent destructive, seemingly thoughtless damage to the areas (such as these so-called "super bloom" sites, tagged by so-called "influencers" - people who have a lot of "followers" on these social media platforms. Masses of people do then follow in the influencers' footsteps and wade out into fields of flowers (or waves, or cliffs, or whatever the it thing is) to get their own "wow" image, without consideration or notice. So part of my gut-reaction this "SUPER" frenzy is DON'T GEOTAG and stop taking pictures altogether....

And yet,

there's always an: And yet,....

The Carrizo Plain National Monument is a perfect example in which we do want people to know that this amazing remnant of native California Grasslands as they once existed and are now almost extinct, exists. I do. We want more people to experience the wonder and magic and profound value of this place and to have the fierce fire of care and loving curiosity be ignited in them, too. I do. It is in experiencing the incredible miracle that is this one remote national monument that perhaps people's eyes and hearts are opened to the intrinsic value of national and state lands everywhere - not as otherwise wasteland, reservoirs of natural resources to be extracted for our consumption - but rather to be understood, appreciated, learned from, and held dear.

Which brings us back to to do the latter without increasing the former?

Another question becomes: is this naturalists' dilemma worse in the digital age or just the same struggle, different mode of communication?

I have no one-solution answers to this. I just know I am pondering this and turning it over with every field I see developed, every piece of roadside litter I see on the glorious sweeps of goldfields, johnny tucks, and yellow carpets blooming with all the might of their yellow-selves.

What about you? What are you responses to this and how do you handle it? I would love to read your thoughts and share them with others. Together we learn - and I hope, make progress...slowly, but surely.

Collinsia greenei and poppies showing off together, Colusa County, CA

Here's one of my favorite things about getting out in and among the wildflowers of spring (or any season): making new friends. I love greeting my old friends, but I love making new ones too. Just last week, John and I took a local wildflower wander in the canyons of the county west of us and had a day of it.

We met two brand-new to me native spring annuals: Greene's blue-eyed Mary, above, and bristly jewelflower, below. Familiar with both of these genera, I had not met these two species. Both were in healthy stands on sharply draining smallish gravel slopes in full sun. The Collinsia presented such a nice purple-blue companion to the bright yellow poppies. It felt a little lobelia-esque.

The jewelflower (yes, the name is part of why I have an affection for this genus), was challenging to photograph to advantage, but its wine-colored lantern-shaped blooms in a row on its stalks, accented by the deep yellow nectar guides, made this one very like delicate sprays of exotic orchids - yet clearly tough as nails (which in the right condition, orchids are too, of course.) To see bees trying to figure their way into the pollen and nectar was fun.

Streptanthus glandulosus (bristly jewelflower), Colusa County, CA

The magic of fritillarias - F. persicaria in my garden this year, followed by three California native species photographed in the field by John Whittlesey.

A final take-away for me this spring, as enormous sturdy stalks of Fritillaria persica comes up in one of my raised beds, simultaneous to a native Fritillaria affins comes up in the nearby native plant/pollinator border - is just how related we all are, and how much our wildlands and native plants have to teach us and enrich us in our gardening practices.

Like when you're headed on a trip far, far away and your neighbor says: "make sure to look up my cousin Flora who lives there, she's a lot like me but different, you'll love her!" And you do.



PS: Two more questions: How are you liking the Habitat Series??? I'd love to know. I'm really pleased with it, but there's always room for improvement...thoughts? AND, for donors to CP who received the email AND who clicked the link at the bottom to listen to the audio bonus #gardenlifeloveletter - what did you think? It made my heart sing. But I want to make sure it made yours sing too, so? Let me know if you have a chance....:)



(just click the live link that is the green title of each program to get to the audio file and listen in....)



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A bluebird, wildflower wander kind of day - I hope you make the time and space for one of your own this spring.

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