In Search of Pink

Last year I found out that a certain pink flower was not the one I always thought it was.

My first encounter with a pink pincushion goes back to my first hikes in the Yukon. I can still visualize that first time I came upon this pink glory, when I was walking on top of a mountain, in that typical world of stone and sky.

Years later I learned that some of those smell like sweet perfume, which has taught me to always go down on my knees and smell the flowers, no matter how tiny they are.

Once down from the mountain, in our regular world, one might be able to look at photos but one cannot bring down all those exquisite fragrances.

Just last year I learned that my favourite pink pincushion was named Douglasia. Apparently I had always named it wrong, and given two different flowers the same name.

After many phone calls with Yukon Government botanist Bruce Bennett, I finally know that, among other similar flowers, my two most encountered favourites are the Douglasia (from the primrose family) and the moss campion (from the pink family).

Finally I can tell them apart.

Last May I went up the Kusawa Ridge to search for the Douglasia. Rosamund Pojar, a botanist and writer from B.C., had been up the ridge early that month and seen them.

The day I went up, it started snowing when we turned onto the Kusawa Road from the Alaska Highway. I was with a group of real Yukon troopers, and by the time we reached the beginning of the trail, it was definitely snowing.

We just put on our winter gear and enjoyed Christmas wonderland in May. By the time we got to the ridge there were several inches of snow.

We did find a Douglasia: one. One that was sheltered by a boulder and was able to peak out of the snow.

Yet I wasn’t prepared for the surprise I got recently.

It was only April—April 23, to be exact. I was going hiking with Sharon and her little dog, who happens to wear a pink collar (that must have been the magic ingredient that made it happen).

Now all of April this year the weather had been glorious, but that morning there was a forecast of rain or maybe even snow.

I thought of last year’s hike to the same location…. We didn’t know if we still wanted to go, and there were some other issues needing to be dealt with.

I said I was going hiking anyway, and we could go on a shorter venture instead of our plan to go up Kusawa Ridge (this hike is described in Hikes & Bikes, published by the Yukon Conversation Society).

Sharon’s adorable pup wouldn’t hear of it—he was ready for a good long hike. So off to Kusawa we went. There was blue sky among the clouds.

I didn’t even dream that we would encounter Douglasia this early in the season. Maybe we would see crocuses, but what we went for was mainly to be among the rocks and overlook the still-frozen Kusawa Lake.

The first part of the hike is very confusing, with not one trail but many. It sounds easy just to follow the creek, but with so many forks in the trail, a first time can be agonizing.

I chose the trails close to the creek, with signs of the mud floods that happen here often, and ridges of boulders deposited long ago. The creek was still full of snow, but with rushing, open water here and there.

Willows, alders, spruce, aspen and balsam poplar of all sizes, some dwarfed, some gigantic.

After an hour or so we came to the ridge we were going to hike up. After taking time to check out small caves in the rock walls, we climbed up some rocks and followed the now-clear trail.

Then it happened… Love! Pink!

There they were: a few clumps of blooming Douglasia. Happy, happy, I really didn’t expect them. We spend time photographing and smelling. So happy with three bunches of flowers!

After a while we continued. Then Mother Nature played a joke that made us laugh out loud.

We had been so delighted with a few flowers at first, and suddenly she showered the whole mountain side with Douglasias. It was surreal.

The weather was fair but for clouds moving around the surrounding mountains. The ground was barren; a somewhat hostile world. And then, all those dreamlike, somehow out-of-place, pink dots.

I don’t think we made it far up the ridge. We were enjoying every aspect of the hike and stopped often.

Sharon taught me that this time of year the juniper berries are best. It’s not a berry you can eat abundantly, but I chewed one and it did taste surprisingly sweet and refreshing.

We found two species of juniper growing alongside each other—one with the typical needles, but the other more like little cedar branches, with scales.

Among the dwarfed poplar, the spruce trees also surprised us. Here on the ridge, the trunks of some trees were so smooth, not the usual rough bark.

Later, reading William J. Cody’s Flora of the Yukon Territory, I learned that this is a subspecies of the white spruce, the Picea glauca porsildii. Our regular white spruce with the rough bark is Picea glauca albertiana. (Isn’t it a matter of respect that we know the tree we all see every day by its full name?)

Finally, the cloud cover was catching up with us, circling the mountain we were on. It was quite a sight to see it coming towards us from above the white lake and only the bottom rim of dark mountains on the opposite side visible.

As we sat down for lunch overlooking the lake it showered us with tiny, dry snowflakes. We bundled up, but it was still not really cold.

We saw the lake from the beginning of river to the narrows, with open water visible at both ends. The pressure cracks crossing the lake were visible white lines on a white surface.

Once below, we did go to the lake, walking across the third campground. What was not visible from above, was that the ice had pushed up on the beach here, creating amazing ridges of ice and boulders.

Driving home we got yet another treat… swans at the Mendenhall landing.

But the biggest treat for me that day was sharing love with friends in the form of a pink heart, a Douglasia gormani—made even more precious an hour after we got home, when it really started snowing.

Yes, that one big snowstorm we had in this most beautiful April.

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