Saturday, November 7, 2015

Willow Expedition

“We’re gonna do what?!”
Snow fell though the night. It was obvious, even inside the house. City sounds were muffled, and a dim light shone through the windows—street lamplight diffused by snow. I was well aware what this meant. The seventh of the month was approaching, so we had no choice but to visit a certain tree first thing in the morning, before the winds picked up.

We've had an unusually long mild Indian Summer—I was in shorts and a t-shirt just last week! But I needed a warm vest, mountaineering parka, wool cap, gloves and boots before I could scrape the ice off the windshield and drive to the east edge of town where the Laramie Mountains rise from the plains.
“Whadaya think, Ollie?”
She was exaggerating. There’s only a few inches, and anyway, we're tough dogs.

I’ve been following an American pussy willow (Salix discolor) since I discovered it blooming last February. It grows in a small limestone canyon in the foothills of the Laramie Mountains, elevation 7400 feet (2255 meters). Around here, we don’t hope to see flowers in the wild until April, so what a surprise to find a tree blooming in February!
February, 2015. White spots are male catkins; white background is snow.
The willow grows in a nook in the north canyon wall, tucked away almost out of sight behind several junipers.
Paler green willow in center, between limestone cliff and junipers.
The canopy is best viewed from above, where it sticks up above the canyon rim.
Last month the willow’s leaves were still mostly green, though tattered. But surely now they will be gone.

Mouth of Willow Canyon is center right.
We walked through a wintry landscape. It will be this way for months now—mostly white, brown, some dark green, with skies of blue, white and all shades of gray. But there are always interesting things to see—like snow patterns on limestone pavement.
The snow lines were following shallow crevices that have a bit of dirt and occasionally small plants. Does snow melt faster on bare rock? Do the cracks accumulate enough snow that it takes longer to melt?
We headed up the canyon …
… and followed a small side drainage into the junipers …
… to where we found a nearly-leafless willow decorated with ice and snow.
The pussy willow’s twigs have beautiful dark buds, ready to bloom next February.

Another treat: photogenic plants and rocks in new winter garb.
Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum).
Small limber pine (Pinus flexilis) growing out and up from a crack in the limestone wall.
Even smaller limber pine in a crack under an overhang (this is its canopy!).

And yet another fascinating find: green ferns! These are the tough drought-tolerant limestone lovers that I wrote about in September.
Slender lip fern (Cheilanthes feei) on left and western cliffbrake (Pellaea occidentalis). Franklin D. Roosevelt, our 32nd president, for scale (profile is about 1 cm across).

We hiked back to the truck, enjoying the sunshine as clouds melted away.
Snowy limestone path leads to a sunny Laramie Valley.
I wonder, will I find anything new in December? My guess is not, just more cold and snow. But I can’t be sure. This tree seems to have plenty of surprises up its … uh … bark? For example flowers in February, a waterfall in July, and a ghostly visitor in August.
Explorers relax by the wood stove after a grueling but successful expedition.

This is my monthly contribution to the latest tree-followers virtual gathering, now hosted by Squirrel Basket who has kindly taken over from Lucy. We welcome new enthusiasts; see more about tree-following here.


  1. Love those dark, glossy buds - fascinating to think the tree will hold those through all the months of snow and ice! It looks like the expedition was a success from the canine point of view too ;-)

    1. thanks, Amy--we all had a good time for sure.

  2. What a wonderful winter wonderland!
    Your landscape always looks so wild and exciting and ready for adventures, even more so in the snow.
    I love all your pictures, but especially the black buds, the pine icicles and the fern - oh and of course the dogs!
    Thanks for hanging on in there with the tree following.
    All the best till next time :)

    1. Thanks, squirrelbasket, glad you enjoyed it. And once more, thanks for hosting. Tree following is always a wonderful experience.

  3. Beautiful, beautiful shots - such a wonderful landscape (and pretty good dogs, too).

    1. Thanks so much, beangenie, for the encouraging comments. You are right about the dogs--pretty good. But getting better with age ;-) (they're only 2 years old).

  4. It's hard for this Texas girl to imagine snow, but there it is--in gorgeous photos. Thanks for taking us on this lovely hike, you and your pups. All the photos are lovely, but the leafless willow--sigh.

    1. thanks, Tina. The first snows and cold are always a little hard. Texas sounds wonderful! ;-) But we get used to it and then find ourselves enjoying it.

  5. Oh, thanks for the reminder. I need to pick a tree for this year. I think I have one in mind. I'm not ready for snow, but your photos are lovely. Your dogs are good sports, too! :)

    1. Glad to hear you'll be following a tree in 2016, I'm sure it will be interesting!

  6. I always find trees growing out of cracks in stone fascinating - don't think I've ever seen a pine do it. Great pic! I guess snow does melt faster on bare rock than crevices (no matter how shallow the crevice), as it is more exposed...

    1. Thanks, L.E. Yeah, I'm a fan of plants in/on rock! They seem particularly photogenic somehow.