In my humble opinion, June is the best month for wildflowers. There are so many new flowers coming to blossom, it is hard to keep up. Interesting seed heads to observe from earlier plants. The leaves of plants that are coming soon have emerged. It is also a beautiful month, unlike any other for startling prairie skies. Of course, the plants bloom long after my contrived two week time periods. And yet, keeping note of the plants as they bloom has me noticing more. The more I learn, the more I notice. The more I learn, the more questions I have. What a privilege it is to walk the same hills daily, to notice the ever changing plants and shrubs as well as the birds, animals and insects.
Sources: Saskatchewan Wildflowers Website by Glenn Lee and Facebook Page of Saskatchewan Native Plants- Saskatchewan Native Plant Society
Despite the dry hills, it has been hard to keep up with all the new blooms and emerging plants this first two weeks of June. The air has been permeated with the distinctive smell of wolf willow in bloom – a prairie smell unlike any other. For most of this time, all the plants shown in my late May post (with the exception of the fruit bushes) have continued to be in bloom as well. Even though 22 plants are pictured here, there are also plants I have seen which are not included here (cut leaf anenome, wood anenome, some milk vetches among them) and plants that I have missed altogether. Keeping this record is helpful to me. I notice more.
My friend and teacher Ron tells me that when we thank Mother Earth she knows! Doesn’t matter how we thank the earth, he says. You can bow, sing a song, strike a yoga pose, simply notice and pay attention, dance a jig, say a prayer, write a poem, offer a gift. However we do it, Mother Earth knows. According to Ron, she celebrates. She wants to be noticed, to be loved, to be acknowledged, to be remembered, to be revered.
I don’t know that I have ever before taken the time to visit Pheasant Creek Coulee almost every day. It has been a gift in noticing, paying attention, being astonished, and returning home. My eye most often scans the earth, looking at stones, grasses, emerging plants, blossoming plants, and faded remnants of last year’s growth. Once again, this post is mostly for myself – a visual record of the plants that typically grown in Pheasant Creek during the first half of May. These wildflowers are both common, and uncommonly beautiful! Each year, it seems, i meet a new plant friend I managed to miss in all the springs before!! (This spring it is Sunloving Sedge.)
Sources: Wildflowers Across the Prairies, by F.R. Vance, J.R. Jowsey and J.. MacLean, Western Producer Prairie Books, Saskatoon, 1984 and Glenn Lee’s excellent website.
Sticks and Stones (and maybe bones) was an all ages PLAYshop offered twice this summer. Both days, we began at Kerry Farm, and then drove to nearby Pheasant Creek Coulee where we spent a few hours exploring the meadows, hillsides, creek bed, and wooded areas around this part of the coulee. We then returned to Kerry Farm for lunch and an afternoon of rest and creativity (and one of the days, tree-climbing).
During the July PLAYshop, the wildflowers were blooming profusely, Saskatoon berries were plump and plentiful, the creek was running due to recent rains. A bone was found! On our August day, a few of the July wildflowers were still in bloom as well as the August beauties, there were still Saskatoon berries, and the creek bed was mostly dry and kind of green where there was moisture. The grasses were spectacular – every colour of green, as well as pink, yellow, rust, purple, and reddish. No bones were found, but a number of sticks and stones came back to Kerry Farm. My highlight during the second PLAYshop was this: a boy, running past me up the hill, declaring at top volume,”OH! I LOVE NATURE SO MUCH!” Makes me smile just to remember.
Below are some photos which will give you a feel for the beauty of Pheasant Creek Coulee, as well as the open hearted spirit each person brought to the day.
I return again and again to the same part of Pheasant Creek, in different seasons, at different times of day. I have learned where the wild bergamot flourishes, where the buffalo berries can be found, where the coyote digs her den, the location of the drumming log of the ruffed grouse, or the tree that the pair of red tail hawks return to each year. While I know it as well as I know any place, I am constantly being surprised by new discoveries.
I see but I don’t see. Sometimes I amazed by what I have not noticed and what i have missed.
Take the bearberries, for example. I noticed them for a long time before I knew what they were called. I noticed them because they seemed out of place on the prairie hills with their deep green colour and the leathery feel and shiny look of their leaves. They seemed to belong more in a boreal forest.
At some point, I noticed the delicate pink bell shaped flowers that blossom in spring, or the red berries that come in the fall. In fall their leaves turn a deep red, and in early spring you will find patches of faded red bearberry leaves mixed with fresh green growth, as pictured below. Bearberry grows low to the ground as a trailing shrub, often close to stands of aspen or other trees. I usually find it on the coulee and valley hills, but it has a wide range across Canada.
Once I found out that this plant was called bearberry, I learned that the leaves were an essential ingredient in kinnnickinick (blended smudging mixture used by many Indigenous peoples, with ingredients varying somewhat depending on locale).
Recently, when I was thinking I might have the beginnings of a bladder infection, I looked up herbs that can help with this. All ten plants listed can be found where I live. Top of the list and and very plentiful was bearberry!! I began by making tea with the leaves, but as the leaves are full of tannins, I have made cold water infusions instead (which do not release the tannins). I do this by tearing the leaves up and grinding them and letting them sit in water for 12 hours ( 1 teaspoon of leaves per cup of water). I then drain the water off and drink it through the day. It has a mild but very refreshing taste. This will only work if your urine is alkaline. Drinking a glass of water with a teaspoon of baking soda about an hour before drinking the bearberry water will alkalize your urine. A few cautions: This is not for pregnant women, and limit use to about two weeks.
Other medicinal benefits of bearberries can be found in The Boreal Herbal: Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North by Beverly Gray (see below). It is a fantastic resource. You can also find bearberry in health food stores as Uva-Ursi, or in plant nurseries.
Bearberries are aptly named according to Beverly Gray. She writes, “In fall, bears will ingest massive amounts of bearberries, which has a numbing/paralyzing action on the intestine. Bears follow this meal with Carex, a rough edged sedge that ravels right through their intestines, dragging with it tapeworms and other parasites paralyzed by the bearberry.”
Beverly Gray, The Boreal Herbal: Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North, Whitehorse: Aroma Borealis Press, 2011, pages 51-54
Mary Siisip Geniusz, Plants Have So Much to Give Us, All We Have To Do Is Ask: Anishinabe Botanical Teachings, University of Minnesota Press, 2015. (“How Cedar and Bearberry Came into the World” is well worth reading, pages 33-36)
Kahlee Keane and Dave Howarth, The Standing People: Field Guide of Medicinal Plants for the Prairie Provinces, Self-published, 2003, pages 128- 129
It was a very hot and humid day when we set out to explore the wildflowers of Pheasant Creek Coulee, with small sketchbooks in hand. Each sketchbook had several line drawings of flowers we hoped to find, with a space to name it ourselves, and a space for the common name. I had anticipated moving quickly across the pasture to the hills below but this gaggle of 5 girls and 2 moms stopped to look at and appreciate every wildflower – they did not miss one – and gave each some very fun names. We collected a few to paint later and proceeded to a very steep hill full of western wild bergamots and a scary climb down (for some!) that ended with a slide several feet down to the road!!
We returned to Kerry Farm a little overheated, but cooled down with a delicious potluck lunch. We found some shade to really look closely at our wildflowers and experiment with watercolour painting. Along the way, we visited Grandmother Willow (for a little tree climbing and some feather collecting) and said hi to the horses. We ended the day with some flower yoga and gymnastics as you can see.
This is a companion piece to Befriending Wildflowers (the Quiet Version)
Down on hands and knees
through the door of thorny branches,
just big enough
and into the hawthornes
right in the middle
sssshhh…if you can stay quiet
they come back
the birds, the squirrels
to eat the red berries
if you can stay as still as a hawthorne
you can hear the soft wingbeat of a fairy
if you can stay quiet
you can catch the scent
of the coyote who slept here last night
you can feel the slow heartbeat of the earth
that is holding you
back to life