You already know that San Juan Island is perhaps my favorite place on earth, and the California poppies that grow wild at Cattle Point are just one of the many reasons why. I actually started this sketch on an earlier trip, and came back to this spot exactly one year later to finish it. And it’s a good thing I did, because after the super-wet winter we had on the West Coast, I’ve never seen quite this many poppies in bloom before. After I finished the sketch, I just sat there on the hillside for another half hour or so, not wanting to break the spell of such a perfect moment.
I love sketching wildflowers and other plants—but unfortunately, I’m really not great at identifying them. Of course, sketching is an excellent way to cement the information into your brain, but it doesn’t help much when you’re not sure what you’re looking at. I’m not a fan of standing there, juggling sketchbook and guidebook, trying to find one particular yellow flower amongst a huge grid of yellow flower photos (that all look, well, frankly identical to each other, and not at all like what’s in front of me), just to label my drawing correctly.
Enter the National Park Service. Wondering what kind of unusual flower that is? Forgot the name of that cactus? Just look around—nine times out of ten there’ll be a little engraved label nearby. Not near a marked trail? Just look in the little pamphlet the ranger handed you when you arrived! I swear, park rangers are the librarians of the natural world (and since I’m always telling people that librarians and park rangers are the most helpful folks on earth, this seems to fit).
I rely on this so much that when I’m not in a national park (or arboretum, or conservatory), I get frustrated. I mean, how great would it be if every front-yard garden, every school hedgerow, every city park came equipped with tiny interpretive signs?
Because after all, you never know when a sketcher is going to happen by.
When I was on Mount Adams, the ravenous bugs prevented me from sketching the most spectacular part of the scenery: the endless meadows of cream-colored beargrass. So when I spotted it again at a native plant garden this spring, I jumped at the chance.
As an aside…I have no idea how beargrass got its name, but I would dearly love to see an actual bear standing in a field of this stuff. It would be sketchbook gold.
A couple of summers ago, the Tailor and I took a cross-country road trip along the Trans-Canada Highway. For hundreds and hundreds of miles, the roadsides were dotted with bright pink, blue and purple lupines. It felt like all of Canada was one big, bright bouquet.