As an old man of the mountains, you would think that this social distancing period would be ideal for me. Well, yes and no. No one loves time alone in the mountains more than I do. But I am also a huggy sort of guy who likes to let people know they matter to me, through whatever physical contact is appropriately comfortable for both parties. So admittedly, I feel like something is missing, and I suspect I am not alone in that sentiment.
Even so, this is a time of year to get out there into our most beautiful mountains. Our hills and foothills have abundant wildflowers and as the snow recedes to higher and more north facing slopes, the contrasts in colors can become intense. The grays, whites and tans of only a couple of months ago have been replaced by different shades of green and when you add the yellows, reds, blues and purples of wildflowers into the mix, there is much to see and appreciate right now.
Life has indeed returned. Even as the news reports a rising death toll from a nasty microbe, life in the hills is ramping up at a feverish pitch. Butterflies, bumblebees, migrant bird species, lizards, snakes, spiders, mosquitos — ok I’ll stop; you get the point — life from beautiful to creepy, from enchanting to annoying, is now there for our observation.
One of my favorites, horned lizards — we called them horny toads growing up — are abundant on barren south facing slopes, so keep an eye out for them scurrying into bushes. New hatchlings are particularly cute and seeing these reptiles takes me back to my childhood days on Upland Drive before all the houses were built and ant hills and horned lizards were abundant.
Something I should emphasize is that the farther from other people you get the more diverse plants and animals you will see. And the wildflowers in our hills truly are magical. Some early bloomers seek to leaf out and bloom before the canopy of tree leaves shades them out. Glacier lilies (erythroniums), yellow bells (fritillaria) and spring beauties (claytonia) bloom early and are joined by two more favorites like Indian paintbrush (castilleja) and balsamroot (balsamorhiza).
As the season progresses, different species will leaf out and bloom. The transition keeps things interesting in our hills. Please tread lightly among these sensitive beauties. These flowers are critical for the many pollinating insects and hummingbirds that depend on this amazing ecosystem.
If you would like to see what is out there in our hills without the exertion, check out the Facebook page “Utah Wildflowers” which I started in order to promote love and appreciation of our native flowers.
The challenges we face as a society and as individuals can seem overwhelming at times, particularly when a pandemic hits and disrupts our lives and our economy. Escaping into the beauty of our hills is not only consistent with social distancing goals, it is good for the heart, lungs, and psyche. Even as the natural world can threaten us with deadly microbes, it can also enhance our lives with stunning beauty.
David Swan lives on the southeast side of Tooele City with a view of the Oquirrh Mountains.