Continuing from previous blogs, here’s another story to go with my Story Quilt that I stitched together and embroidered during Sabbatical year in 1976-77. One major goal of the Sabbatical was to see the low desert during the cool season. In early spring of that year, we headed south. Death Valley was our first stop, and we arrived in time for the spring wildflower bloom. The quilt block above shows my version of an alluvial fan filled with Desert Gold wildflowers. I worked from my field sketch (see below) of an erosional (flood) plane that washed down from the mountains and spread over a wide area. It provided a fine place for Desert Gold to grow. Notice the spaces in between the flowers; all are a certain distance from each other. It’s not hard to guess why. If it rains, those spreading roots can take full advantage of the moisture. From a distance, the field of flowers spilled a gold aura across the plain. Lovely.
Sketch of the Desert Gold bloom
My appreciation for earth vegetation started in the desert, where vegetation zones are stripped to essentials. Much of Death Valley is bare rock or nearly so, a beautiful and bold geology that invites exploration. Colorful cliffs, rock formations, and erosion patterns enticed me to sketch and paint. I loved drawing the beautiful forms. Shaped by water and wind they showed signs of flow patterns. I especially liked the long curving lines on hills that seemed to echo the pattern of cirrus clouds in the sky. I also looked for mountains shaped like waves, another flow pattern. My pen and brush glided across the paper to illustrate the forms. On my website you can view two of my D.V. paintings: Death Valley Moon Rise, Eroded Hills & Smoke Trees. (https://www.janiceekirk.com/paintings/)
Top: wave forms — Bottom: erosional flow lines
Plants were sparse, non-existent in many areas, but we did find pockets of vegetation as well as stragglers across the landscape. Those pockets of plant communities had found a water supply, springs or an ideal spot to capture precious rainfall. They usually grew in more protected areas and no doubt found better soils. Death Valley is the hottest place in the world, the lowest and driest in America. Plants struggle against the elements here—lack of moisture, extreme heat, relentless sun, surprisingly cold at times, and always the blowing wind that erodes surfaces, moves soils, and builds sand dunes.
What makes up a plant community? A grouping of plant species that can be found together in a designated geographical location. They apparently provide some mutual benefit. The same grouping can be found in widely separated locations if the conditions of soil, moisture, elevation, and all other growing conditions are replicated. More about Death Valley plants: (https://www.nps.gov/deva/learn/nature/plants.htm) My favorites were the smoke trees across from the campground. Don was happy when he found creosote bushes along with mesquite at the lower elevations. When we drove higher he greeted shadscale like an old friend. Higher elevation zones hosted pinyon-juniper or limber pine woodlands, but we spent most of our time studying valley sites. We enjoyed the scattered wildflowers—Desert Marigold, Desert Star, Mariposa Lily, Desert Trumpet. We found pickleweed in a marshy area. No super bloom occurred the particular year we were there, but we were satisfied.
You can read the full story of our Death Valley visit in my memoir, The Road to Beaver Park, Painting, Perception, and Pilgrimage, Chapter 13. https://www.janiceekirk.com/the-road-to-beaver-park/ Read about the rare plant in Titus Canyon, floating salt crystals, a real dust storm, and a breath-taking night sky—wonder after wonder.
During the dust storm is when I embroidered the above patch on my quilt. As I waited in the travel trailer I used Chain Stitch for the mountains and flower stems, a simple Flat Stitch for flower petals, as well as French Knots for the sun and the flowerheads that disappear into the distance. The landscape may look barren, but it is not devoid of life. The sparse plant cover, in fact, was habitat for a great diversity of life. Certain groups of plants and animals were adapted to the extremes of climate and geography; for example, some plants emerge when conditions are right, and go dormant or go to seed when conditions get tough. Living things practice an economy of means to stay alive. Limitations foster resilience.
Those lessons are examples for us. Given our current environmental problems that beg the question, “how then shall we live”, can we determine what is essential and what is non-essential? Can we limit ourselves to essentials? Can we ignore the current marketing fashions and trends? Can we become more resilient in our living practices? Can we be content regardless of limitations? Desert life adapted to desert conditions. Now it exists in great beauty, a wonder of the natural world. We can enjoy the silence, the beauty, and the solitude. Let’s remember these spiritual blessings are essential to our well-being.
Nature lore: How’s your ecology? What native plants grow in your area? Do they form a plant community? Do you have any in your yard? Check with local natural resource departments to get a plant list. Where can you go to find plants on the list?
Gospel lifestyle: Be content. Something to ponder from the Apostle Paul: “ I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Phil 4:12 NIV)
The Road to Beaver Park is available: