Into the White Mountains: Aspen & Bluebells
Early yesterday morning we journeyed from the Canyon towards the Arizona border, up into the Aspen forests that lie less than an hour from our tiny mountain village. It’s a swift rise from Piñon/Juniper and Ponderosa to Mixed Conifer woods, going from the 6,000 feet we normally reside at to almost 9,000 feet in the White Mountains. A few villages away, we found a dirt turnoff and headed into Fern-thick forest.
When we got out to explore, we were greeted my the smiling white faces of hundreds of Canadian Violets (V. canadensis) peeking through the duff and Ferns. Nearby, Wild Yellow Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha) bloomed, while Wild Strawberry (Fragaria spp.) and baby False Solomon’s Seal (Smilacina spp.) nearly covered the ground in places. Rhiannon was in awe, as she rarely travels far from home and was fascinated by the lush mossy growth and abundant mushrooms.
Up into the mountains we climbed, searching for the Oshá that we never did come across (too low in elevation really), but no matter, the adventure was reward enough in itself. And besides, I still have a bit of Oshá left until I go searching again. I have my own little digging spot on a nearby peak, but I like to keep an eye on nearby populations.
High in the forest we were grieved deeply by the obvious presence of ongoing logging, with ripped out Juniper, Fir and Pine everywhere around us and the sound of a chainsaw far in the distance. But the Aspens here were the hugest I’d ever seen, thick and scarred with age, a graceful and ghostly presence among the red barked conifers and blue berried Common Juniper (Juniperus communis). Animate as the tassel eared squirrels that ran among them, the Aspens seemed to sing a soothing lullaby to a wounded mountain.
Nearby, a freezing spring burst from the mountain’s face, creating a small meandering stream that ran through fallen logs and smooth boulders. It’s slow moving surface was trellised by the brilliant green of Watercress and Water Parsnip, Loba stopped to gather greens as Rhiannon and I wandered up and down the stream to scout out other likely flora. Rhiannon disappeared into a meadow for a while, only to resurface with her hands full of Lupine of all colors -blue, violet, pink, purple, cream and nearly red. Being familiar with the many poisonous “Locoweeds” of the Southwest, she was excited to a few new species back to her Papa. In the meadow was also a cornucopia of Silverweed, Potentillas, River Mint, Hooker’s Evening Primrose, Purple Asters, Larkspur and a delightful but scattered population of gorgeous purple Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia).
Back along the grassy stream bank, a single large Yellow Monkeyflower bloomed, the last testament to Summer in the mountains. A few steps away, to my great delight, bloomed dozens of Mountain Bluebells (Mertensia ciliata), a long-time favorite wildflower of mine that I hadn’t seen in several years. A favored foraging food of Rocky Mountain Elk and a traditional medicine of many peoples. Being a member of the Borage family, there’s a chance these cucumber/salt flavored plants contain PLAs, though I haven’t found much in the literature to indicate one way or the other. The flowers are magical purple to pink drooping bells on a curved stem of vibrant green, the leaves are soft and slightly hairy, vein-mapped in a way similar to its relative Borage but far less prickly. The texture of the plant is crispy and moist, and very tasty eaten with a few Violet leaves and flowers. Also known as Lungworts, the Bluebells (like their relatives Comfrey, Borage and Coltsfoot) have a time tested reputation for soothing hot, inflamed lung conditions, increasing breast milk, healing wounds and cooling fevers. And I couldn’t shake the distinct impression that I deeply needed to partake in this lovely and mineral rich plant as a medicine. The same sense of adrenal soothing and building that’s present in Borage seemed multiplied in the Bluebells, so I harvested a bundle of flowering tops and wrapped them carefully in a purple sarong. And indeed, upon eating several flowers, my nerves relaxed in a manner similar to the way they after a few drops of Borage tincture. Back home, I made a pint of tincture and a smidgen of infused oil. I can’t wait to see how it will work out!
After we’d spent the afternoon gathering and snacking on wild greens, we decided to take a walk down the road. On down the trail, we happened to spot about a dozen Elderberry trees, most of whom had already given their fruit to the birds, but we did manage to scrounge a few umbels of perfectly ripe, purple-black berries. We also collected an armful of sticky Grindelia and a few handfuls of prime Yarrow. Sorry for the lack of pictures, but the man with the camera was conspicuously missing for much of the afternoon. Next time, I promise.
We got home late, and feasted on salad and salmon, while I sorted plants and roughly chopped a few bunches of the Violets to tincture and arranged the rest to dry for infusions, along with the Potenttilla, Mint and Silverweed. The Watercress was dunked into some cold water to rehydrate, and the Evening Primroses wrapped up in moist cloth for the night.
After a long day away, it was good to be back in the Canyon, greeted by glowing white Daturas, and the pink tongues of incredibly fragrant Ribbon Four O’Clocks. And this morning I heard two Thrushes singing, a sure sign of Autumn, as they only come around during the transitional seasons. Their sweet liquid voices are perhaps my favorite bird songs besides the love croaks of the resident tribe of Ravens.