Witness to spring on the mountain

Spring comes late 8,000 feet up in northern Colorado's Rocky Mountains where we lived. I was alert that spring, ready to answer the question, which flowers bloom first in the Rockies?

I thought mountain ball cactuses were the earliest wildflowers to blossom. Beautiful, pink, waxy-looking flowers appear on the small (up to about six inches in diameter) round cactuses nestled into the ground. But Amanda, my daughter, thought pasque flowers (beautiful, lavender, cup-shaped, fuzzy, not very tall, but profuse) might be earlier. Neither of us was sure. We were both willing to be proved wrong.

We walked up the driveway to the closest mountain ball cactuses. It was a cold and windy day.

I said, "This should be a good place for early blooming, because all this rock holds some heat."

"But that pine tree shades the area part of the day," Amanda said. There were no signs of developing flowers, yet.

Two weeks later, I left my desk and walked outside. Amanda was in school that day. Pasque flowers bloomed under trees and along the dirt road. Sun shone, and then clouds covered the sun. Wind rose. Clouds blew across the sky, and the sun shone again and then disappeared behind moving clouds.

I left the road and walked through open meadow, then into pine forest. Pasque flowers stood, their petals tightly closed, among rocks. As I watched, sun shone again. Pasque flowers opened their petals, forming a cup shape, and turned to face the sun. Clouds obscured the sun again, and the flowers closed their petals tight.

I was fascinated by the changing flowers. I knew some flowers opened for sun and closed for cloudy skies, but I'd never watched it happen before. The open flowers began to close for lack of sunshine. Were they disappointed, too cold? I crouched close to them, but out of the way of their sunshine.

Clouds moved and allowed the sun to shine. Warmth burst on the world. The pasque flowers opened. I watched the performance. What I experienced wasn't music for my ears, but color for my eyes, a quiet dance.

Close to the dancing pasque flowers, I saw small white flowers with yellow centers, close to the ground. Tiny, very light pink flowers gripped decomposing granite tightly. Neither of those flowers responded to the appearing and disappearing sun the way the pasque flowers did.

I stayed there through more than a dozen changes from bright sunshine to overcast, from flowers open to receive warmth to flowers closed and protecting themselves from winterlike conditions. Time became irrelevant. I had entered a world that revealed mysteries to me.

When I had been there long enough, I felt as though they would tell me their true names. Not the species names given them by lumbering-above-them humans, but their individual names – soft, petally, shy as spring sun hiding behind densely blowing gray clouds.

But human voices and duties of the day called me. I woke to the larger world around me and stood up. I walked to the rocky place above the highway and found more than a dozen mountain ball cactuses flowers reflecting sunshine in beautiful colors. I crouched close to them and looked at them for a while.

Then I walked home by a circuitous route and found other kinds of flowers in bloom, greeting spring. I never did answer the question, which flower blooms first? It doesn't matter if I never answer that question, though.

I found answers to several questions I never thought to ask. I found images of beautiful flowers of a dozen kinds and of dancing pasque flowers to fill my thoughts with beauty as I drift toward sleep. I found delicate flowers that I would find again and again when I walked through forest and meadow on another partly cloudy spring day.

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