“In some ways this is a meditative exercise. In others, an unconventional form of yoga. Either way, it's surprising what you can see if, for a moment, you stand still and refuse to move.” –Lucy Corrander
Earlier this week, on a bright fresh morning, I performed the mind-expanding exercise of foot-sticking, following Lucy’s directions from years back: “… plant your foot firmly in a roughly random place and see what you can see without moving. Best is when you plant both feet. If you are on a slope or some other kind of difficult ground you may need to move the other foot for the sake of balance - but you mustn't move the 'stuck' foot. You can bend your body this way and that. You can lean forward and twist at the waist - but you mustn't swivel that stuck-foot.” So I didn’t.
However my place was only barely “roughly random.” It was in a flat area near my campsite where wildflowers grew, as I knew from a stroll the night before. I walked to the first big opening and stuck my foot on an old anthill. It was nearly level with the ground but still obviously an anthill. The particles were well-sorted, forming a patch of fine gravel surrounded by rock fragments in dirt.
In gravel I saw old dried rabbit poop (did you notice?). The nearby dull flat rock fragments are more interesting than you might think. Just that morning I had read that 500 million years ago these rocks were sediments on the bottom of the sea off the west coast of young North America. Now they lie 8000 feet above sea level.
It was still early in the season, so only a few plants were blooming. I twisted around far enough (only one foot was stuck) to photograph some tiny white flowers. Is this a cryptantha (borage family)? That’s what the coarse hairs suggested.
A penstemon in bud was hiding in the shrubbery, visible below as blueish gray leaves. I saw a lot of herbaceous plants growing "in the protection" of shrubs that probably provided shade for the seedlings in this harsh environment. Sorry for the lousy shot but then I didn’t pick the spot for outstanding photo possibilities … well, not totally.
Almost done, guys, I’ll be outta here soon.
The most common blooming plant by far was a wild buckwheat (Eriogonum) growing low to the ground—a true cushion plant. From the anthill, it appeared as gray and yellow mats. The yellow flowers, sometimes tinged with red, were in flattish clusters typical of many eriogonums.
I had to unstick my foot for some close-ups, for this was quite an elegant little eriogonum! A vague memory surfaced—“eriogonum caespitosum”—after all, it’s definitely caespitose (botanese for growing in dense tufts).
With Google images now available, I searched and was astonished by what I found. Jim Morefield had shared a photo of Eriogonum caespitosum and it looked really similar to the plants I saw, including growth form and even the rock fragments nearby. Then I noticed … it was taken in the same mountain range! Did fate smile today?
Mat buckwheat in the White Mountains; courtesy Jim Morefield.
Now back to the anthill. Looking up, I was surrounded mostly by sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) with occasional snakeweeds (Grindelia squarrosa). Singleleaf pinyon (Pinus monophylla) and Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) grew on the slopes above the sagebrush.
Sagebrush is blue-gray-green. Snakebrush is bright green in comparison.
The more yellow-green trees are junipers; the rest are pinyons.
Finally, I looked west toward the great Sierra Nevada, still snow-covered thanks to California's stormy winter and a spring blizzard just ten days earlier.
After unsticking my foot, I walked the 4-wheel-drive road to an overlook with the views for which Grand View Campground is named. The Owens Valley below is 4000 feet elevation. The crest of the Sierra Nevada is 13,000+!
|View from the White Mountains west to the Owens Valley and the Sierra Nevada beyond.
|"Sierra Nevada" means snowy range (Spanish).