Fireweed blooming on our septic field

When I lived in Oregon, I used to love to garden.  Something about getting my hands dirty while planting bulbs, lilac bushes, perennials and annuals, and then nurturing them through watering and loving care to see them bloom each summer provided me with great fulfillment.  A lot of my friends who live down in Boulder and Denver are busy buying and planting both vegetables and flowers in their gardens these past few weeks.  But living in the mountains on a well, a conventional garden is not an option.  That’s because in Colorado, if you live on a parcel of land less than 35 acres and drill a well, you can only use the water inside your house (Household-use Only Wells).  So even though we have a spigot, we are not allowed to use the water to water outside plants.  The only water we can use towards that purpose is rainwater we would collect off the roof into a cistern (which we currently don’t have).  Does this stop us from having a garden?  Not exactly…

Along with having a well as our resource for water in our house, we also have a septic holding tank down the hill from our house, what we refer to as the leach field.  During the first summer after we bought our house in Nederland, we noticed flowers sprouting up and blooming…all over the septic field.  It makes sense in a way, since it is the most moisture-laden area on our property.  One of the flowers that seems to do extraordinarily well there is Fireweed.  Fireweed is a very tall, showy wildflower with purple-pink blooms along stalks that grow as tall as 6 feet high.  It is native flower that is part of the Evening Primrose family, and gets its name from the fact that it is grows rapidly and is widespread in areas previously burned over by fires.  Fireweed was one of the first plants to grow after the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens.  I have vivid memories of Fireweed while hiking in Yosemite National Park, walking through a large field of Fireweed that was as tall as I one summer.  But Fireweed is not the only flower that blooms in our leach field.  We also have wild roses, Cinquefoil (a lovely yellow flower), as well as Colorado’s state wildflower, the Columbine.

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Penstemon blooming in the burn area in Shadow Canyon

One of the things I love about wildflowers is the surprise and wonder they bring you, when you happen upon them.  Because they aren’t cultivated, you never quite know what will bloom, when, during any given summer.  One of my most lovely memories of wildflowers was in the nearby Flatiron Mountains flanking Boulder to the west.  My husband I were hiking Shadow Canyon to the top of Bear Peak, one of the Flatiron’s highest peak in late June last year.  The previous summer, a wildfire had burned across the saddle and we knew the upper third of Shadow Canyon had been burned over, and were curious to see how the burned area was regenerating.  As we hiked up through the canyon, a  carpet of purple and yellow wildflowers greeted us, seemingly more at every turn.  The burned area had provided just the right mineral soil, and the lack of competition had given lots of sun and water to produce a stunning display of wildflowers — it was simply breathtaking.

A few years ago, we hiked to a place called Herman’s Gulch along the Continental Divide Trail.  After hiking, I looked up the hike on the Internet, and read that sometimes if you hit it right during the month of July, you can see up to 100 species of wildflowers blooming at the same time — what they coined as a “Century Hike.”  I’m hoping that with all the spring snow and moisture we had, that this July could be one of those moments, and have planned a hike for early July in hopes that this could be the year.  One of my favorite things about hiking the Rocky Mountains during summer is the magic of spying a new wildflower I’ve never seen before. Here’s hoping this summer brings the wonder of wildflowers for all who wander the trails…

“May your life be like a wildflower growing freely in the beauty and joy of each day.”

— Native American Proverb