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  • Writer's pictureJohn R

Nature's Schiddiest Garden

There isn’t much funny to be had in this stupid virus, except for the fact that I took my temperature, orally, with what turned out to be the cat’s rectal thermometer. Maybe that’s more cringe-worthy than funny. The good news is that the cat has been dead for a while so there’s no chance of her catching anything from me via that thermometer. If you’re wondering, my temp was 97.2. Is that in cat degrees?

One of North America's rarest plants, Kalmiopsis leachiana. []

Sure, gardening while sheltering in place is good for the soul and teaches us to appreciate living in the moment, blah blah, blah. What Deb and I really needed was to get the hell out and take a long drive. Like, socially way-out-there distanced. We needed a big dose of raw nature to restore our faith that plant life will ultimately take over the planet when we’re finished fucking it all up. So we drove out to nature’s schiddiest garden, the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.

The Kalmiopsis is schiddy through no fault of its own. This rugged, rocky, 180,000-acre outpost has some of the rarest soils in North America and a correspondingly unique botanical oeuvre. There are plants here that grow nowhere else, such as the diminutive Kalmiopsis leachiana, a small flowering shrub from which the wilderness takes its name.

The Kalmiopsis Wilderness, a legacy of wildfire.

But despite the floral potential and the incredibly glass-clear Illinois River that flows through its heart, the Kalmiopsis Wilderness is heartbreakingly austere and bleak. Blame the thousands of blackened and bleached-white dead trees that stretch across the landscape like an army of Harry Potter’s dementors—testaments to the massive wildfires that have repeatedly ravaged the area over the past several decades. Although the underbrush of manzanita and tanoak are galloping along and thriving, the towering stands of fir, pine, and cedar have been burnt to a crisp, to the point where you look at the enormous landscape and several million scorched and denuded snags and think, Wow, bummer! It must have been so beautiful!

One of the happiest little flowers, tarweed (Hemizonia) chuckles across the hillsides.

Nevertheless, you can see the indefatigable schiddygardener in the current version of the Kalmiopsis. Beat down and counted out, Nature is staggering up off the canvas and staging a gut-check comeback. Carpets of bright yellow tarweed flow across the flanks of ridges, fat leaves of Pacific rhododendrons flare up from the burnt husks of their former selves, and tender young conifers are beginning their journey to become the mighty forests that are their birthright.

Normally, the Schiddygarden blog is a font of wry observations and unbounded wit (my personal objective analysis) on the sad state of just about anything. But this time I thought I’d just let Nature do some talking while I, blissfully, shut the hell up.

(Okay, one more thing: Many thanks to my friend and botanist extraordinaire, Wayne, who was kind enough to tolerate my inquisitions and provide me with the genus and, where possible, the species of the wildflowers of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.)

Siskiyou iris (probably Iris bracteata)— is this a cool wildflower, or what?

Dichelostemma multiflorum — try saying that ten times fast, although, why would you?

Rhododendron rising from the ashes of its former, larger self.

Polygala californica — is it just me or does this name sound orgy-istic?

A clump of Phacelia corymbosa growing in the strange serpentine soils of the Kalmiopsis.

Sidalcea malvaeflora — cute as a bug!

Speaking of cute bugs, a mountain fritillary.
The Illinois River (no, it's not in Illinois).

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