When we talk of springtime, most people think of March (official start of spring) and warmer days, raining skies, greening of the grass, and budding leaves on the trees. Spring in the mountains of Colorado is a bit different. It’s a somewhat turbulent affair weather-wise, with violent swings in temperatures, and dry sunny days mixed in with all forms of precipitation including snow. We can have days that are almost summer-like with temperatures reaching up in the 60s. But that can be followed by 40-degree drops in temperature and big snow storms. And so it goes…
So the time when spring arrives actually arrives can vary t depending on the year, and the signs of spring in the mountains are different as well. Melting snow, seasonal waterfalls, bears popping out of their dens, and lots and lots of mud are just some of the signs of spring up here. But there is one thing that signals life is beginning anew that seems to be the same no matter what elevation you live at — the first flowers begin to bloom.
Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri those first flowers were often the purple crocus that sprang up from the bulbs my parents had planted around our house. Because of our restrictions on water up here in the mountains (we can’t use well water for outside purposes), most of us mountain residents don’t plant bulbs, or grow lawns. But we have our own version of the crocus in a pale purple wildflower that first pops up after the snow melts — the Western Pasque flower or Anemone. Today, as I was out walking, I saw my first Pasque flowers this year, and their subtle beauty brought a moment of joy. The Pasque flower often grows on exposed ridges up in the mountains and is sometimes called the Windflower for its deep roots and ability to hug the ground, allowing it to withstand extreme winds.
The Pasque flower has an interesting life cycle, first sprouting up between patches of snow, its shoots looking a lot like little pussy willow heads shooting up. The leaves come out next with a velvety and fuzzy feel to them. Then the pale, violet flower blooms, with the petals fully opening up during the strongest of the afternoon sun and closing up as night falls. Most are no longer interested in blooming plants once they have finished flowering, but one of my favorite images of the Pasque flower is when it goes to seed. I first saw a Pasque flower during this stage in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and thought of one thing — a miniature Truffula Tree! I’ve always loved Dr. Seuss books, and somehow the image of the Pasque flower’s head waving in the wind reminded me of those Truffula Trees. It’s somewhat ironic, because that book was one of the first to address the need for conservation through a child’s eyes.
The Pasque flower also has wonderful medicinal properties, known for its ability to relax or sedate, reminiscent of our modern-day Valium. It was often used to treat anxiety, depression, and even headaches in olden days. Most practitioners suggest drying the plant and using a small amount as a remedy for the afore-mentioned maladies. Though I’ve never tried using the Pasqueflower myself medicinally, it does have a calming effect on me, whenever I see it, whatever stage of life it is. It reminds me that life is beginning anew again in the mountains, and is the precursor of all other wildflowers which will be blooming in the months ahead. It reminds me of how fragile and beautiful our natural environment is here in the Rocky Mountains, and provides me with that all important connection to nature and a happier, more peaceful place. So like the Lorax, I speak for the Pasqueflower, and urge you to enjoy its delicate beauty during these days of spring in the Rocky Mountains.