Category Archives: wildflowers

Befriending Wildflowers (the noisier version)

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)

Befriending Wildflowers (the quiet version)

“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” Georgia O’Keefe

“Befriending Wildflowers” was a two day art retreat which gave us time to “really see a flower” and to befriend some of the  wildflowers who live on the slopes of the Qu’Appelle Valley. By spending time with the wildflowers on the hills, by painting and drawing the flowers that called to us, we came to know a few flowers more intimately.

We were so fortunate to be able to hold this retreat at the Qu’Appelle House of Prayer  which is

Photo by Tania Wolk

nestled in the hills above Echo Lake. We painted under the shade of trees during the hot days, and hiked through woodland trails up to the top of the hills where grasses and flowers bloomed profusely in the early mornings and evenings. We were so warmly welcomed and cared for by Glenn, Margaret, Kathy and Tim.  Silence and quiet are encouraged and allow us to connect with nature more deeply than usual. For those who wished, Eucharist and “silent sitting” enriched our experience. The Qu’Appelle House of Prayer is a sacred place.

some of our “cat flowers”…instructor Kami Jo second from right

While the land (and the flowers) were our greatest teacher(s), we also learned so much from each other. Our youngest participant, Kami Jo, led a session on creating cat flowers which was fantastic. Tania helped us draw flowers in their simplest shapes, getting to the essence of the flower, and helping us see flowers in fresh ways. We painted with dominant hand, non-dominant hand, standing, sitting, upside down,  and we sometimes timed ourselves to get the feel of a flower rather than the details. We did flower yoga, and played flower charades, and  did breathing exercises. We laughed frequently. We moved  very slowly (to Kami Jo’s frustration). We called our unhurried pace “wildflower time”. We learned how painting on the ground in a meadow was a completely different experience from painting a vase of flowers.

Wildflower Joy! Photo by Tania Wolk

Photo by Elizabeth Gavin

Photo: Tania Wolk

Speaking for myself, It was pure joy to be with others who take notice and delight in wildflowers. Being with others  who are totally absorbed  in trying to get the feel of a particular flower on paper is very settling, calming and joyful. I saw wildflowers in new ways, and sometimes through the eyes of others, I saw familiar wildflowers in completely unfamiliar ways. I treasure my friendships with wildflowers – through the presence and teachings of my companions, my friendships continue to grow and thrive.

Once upon another PLAYshop, this one focusing on trees, hypnotizing chickens became the most fun thing to do. During our Befriending Flowers time, the most fun thing for Kami Jo was having the chance to drive Margaret in the golf cart! You have to scroll to the bottom for photos of that one.

I feel gratitude for the sacred place that is the Qu’Appelle House of Prayer, for the people that care for it, and for us; for the beautiful hills, grasses and wildflowers; and for each of those who took part so wholeheartedly!! Thank you.

Diane getting to know gaillardia

Gaillardia seed head, Diane

Gaillardia sun and shadows, Liz

Gaillardia, photo by Tania Wolk

Gaillardia Seed Heads by Tania

Purple Prairie clover, first impressions, Liz

Purple Prairie Clover, Photo by Tania Wolk

Cat flowers, Kami Jo

Purple Prairie Clover, Tania

Trying with marker, Kami Jo

Wild Rose, early morning meditation, Diane

Wild Rose, early morning meditation, Tania

Wild Rose, after the petals fall and before the rose hip forms. Beauty in every stage. Tania.

Liz’s flowers…gaillardia, bergamot, wild rose

Cat Flower, Liz

Wild Bergamot (using Tania’s shape method), Sue

Wild Bergamot makes us go wild and free, Diane

And the wind blew, and the bergamot got wilder!  Whoohee!!

Dancing in the Meadow, Sue

Kami Jo’s flowers, photo by Tania Wolk

Who painted the fastest of us all? (Kami Jo)

Early morning painting in the meadow

Totally absorbed as we “befriend a wildflower”

Mai Jo befriending Margaret, Margaret befriending Kami Jo. Margaret is one of the co-directors of the Qu’Appelle House of Prayer, along with Glenn Zimmer. Photo by Tania Wolk.

Saving the best for last!! Finally we are speeding up, says Kami Jo. Photo by Tania Wolk.

through the looking glass, Northern Bedstraw, photo by Tania Wolk


Resilient Fireweed


Fran Morberg-Green is a First Nations heritage interpreter at Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre in Dawson City. I read these words as I learned more about the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in’s long history in what we now call Dawson. Fran’s words resonated with me. Fireweed establishes itself in “disturbed” areas. Think of it’s common name: fire weed, the plant that establishes itself after a fire, the plant that is everywhere. Fireweed is nothing if not resilient.

Near Dawson City, the scorching effects of colonialization which began with the Gold Rush included deforestation of the land, rearrangement of the land (when you drive into Dawson huge piles of rocks and tailing ponds greet you), removal of traditional fishing camps, disease, fishing and hunting detrimentally affected, repeated resettlement, broken trading routes and relationships, the introduction of alcohol, loss of language and culture to name just a few. Despite all this, the people of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in are still there and the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre is just one sign of their flourishing.

When we first arrived, the fireweed was in full bloom – swaths of pink, magenta, violet along road sides, in the crevices of steep cliffs, along the banks of the Yukon River. Sometimes, because they are so plentiful, you stop seeing them – I mean really seeing them, in the way we become blind to the blazing yellow of a patch of dandelions during a Saskatchewan spring. Through August, the blossoms fall, revealing spiky long red capsules which contain silken seeds. The capsules open and curl, releasing the seeds. Slowly, the capsules fall off. The leaves and stem change colour – I have seen every colour from red to scarlet to salmon to  burgundy to purple/purple to orange to rust to yellow. All of this in a background of green, green, green. There are not enough descriptors  in the English language  to cover the range of shades and hues of the fireweed plant in late August. From a distance, communities of fireweed can seem to be a dusty pink, a blood red or a vermillion. I am wooed by the colours but also by the fascinating variety of postures this plant seems to take. Sometimes tall, upright and elegant, occasionally droopy and dejected, many times looking as if caught in the middle of a beautiful dance.



Martha Louise Black (left), a champion of the Yukon, a politician and an amateur botanist urged the territory to choose the Prairie Crocus as its official flower in 1954.  She felt that fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) was too “common” to merit special status as the territorial flower.  The prairie crocus embodied the spirit of Yukoners, springing to life even with snow on the ground after the harshest of winters. For most Yukoner’s, however, the resilient fireweed was the plant best suited to represent the Yukon. They politely waited until Martha Black died in 1957 and named fireweed as the territorial flower.

Although fireweed grows elsewhere in Canada, it is here in Yukon that it has wound its way into my heart.

Fireweed has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes; early shoots can be steamed as a vegetable, young leaves added to salad, and pharmaceutical companies use fireweed in some skin care products. Here in  Yukon, there is fireweed honey, firewood beer and fireweed tea! We bought books at Mac’s Fireweed Books, visited the Fireweed Community Market, both in Whitehorse, and enjoyed a fantastic musical duo called Fireweed and Flannel in Kluane.

I couldn’t resist including this sweet paragraph about fireweed:

 “Fireweed’s tiny seeds ride the wind like parachutes and begin new life where fate carries them.  Even in clear-cuts, roadsides and burns, fireweed plants itself and rises up – stately, steadfast and strong.  It rarely stands solo.  Fireweed builds a thriving plant community through spreading seeds and lateral root networks.  In summer, rose to violet-colored flowers bring immeasurable beauty to stark landscapes.  They are so papery thin that they appear luminescent.  I blush sometimes when I take a close look.  They remind me of the tender blaze of love, or a sweet encounter that leaves me breathless and awed.” – Elise Krohn,

I might not have noticed the fireweed if not for Fran Morberg-Green’s words. I might have just seen a colourful “weed”. I might have seen it, but not really seen it. Something like the resilience and resurgence of Indigenous people and communities here in Yukon (and elsewhere in Canada) – if we take the time to really look, so much is happening. I see Indigenous people rising up everywhere I look – here in Yukon in the thriving cultural centres (like Dänojà Zho) that are a vital part of each community we have visited, and are doing much to shift the dominant narrative of the gold rush. In the resurgence of carving and other art forms among young people. In the art and activism of Christi Belcourt. In grassroots movements like Idle No More. In those defending the land, at Grassy Narrows, in Northern Saskatchewan, on the BC Coast… all across this land. In the persistence and sheer integrity of Cindy Blackstock. In people learning the language of their ancestors. In ceremony. In the quiet actions of many of my friends who have broken the cycle and who are working day by day for good in their communities and in their families. In those who have the courage to speak out against injustice, again and again and again.  The list could go on and on. There is much richness and wisdom and colour and variety, so many ways for we settlers to learn. As David Suzuki recently said, “We in the dominant society need First Nationswe need something they have held onto despite everything we have done to them and that is the sense of connection to the land”, the earth as our mother, the animals and plannts and rocks as our relatives.* I echo those thoughts of Dr. Suzuki and offer  these  photos of our amazing relative, fireweed, … my own prayer for resilience and resurgence. Rise up!

*David Suzuki being interviewed by Rosanna Deerchild on CBC Radio’s Unreserved, August 28, 2016



Fireweed on the Chilkoot Trail

Fireweed along the Chilkoot Trail

Fireweed along the Chilkoot Trail



Inside these long spikes are silken seeds… horsetail in behind (a childhood favourite)


the seeds letting loose – this is the “messy” stage


I wish this image was in better focus but I love that it is blossoming at the same time as the leaves are turning colour… red and magenta – what could be more beautiful? Especially when surrounded by green.


fireweed along the side of the road, Kluane National Park.


Fireweed and yarrow, Kluane National park


I love this dusty pink, the seeds (smoke can be seen on the bottom left)

on the St. Elias hike, Kluane national Park

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The yellow leaves are dwarf birch, trembling aspen trunks with splashes of red fireweed

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