Plant love

I know my connection to a place has begun in earnest when I find myself interested in and caring about the plants there. I only recently realized this pattern, like as I started to write this blog post. Looking back over the years, this plant love curiosity holds true for various places I've lived. When I summon up my fondness for a place, the mental and emotional connotations always include plants. 

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The first significant place this happened is tattooed in my memory and literally on my body. The Walnut Creek Open Space, a gorgeous, rolling oak savannah preserve in the East Bay Area suburbs, was my haven in high school. It was the first place I hiked and explored nature on my own. It was the first place of which I memorized a mental map. You could call me from the Open Space, lost, and if you explained where you were, I could tell you what trail to take back to the trailhead. It was the first place I began to notice subtle and overt seasonal changes in a landscape: I knew I would be running through mud on the ravine trails in the winter, so I stuck to the higher hill trails; I looked forward to the precious few weeks in March when the hills became the greenest green I had ever seen; and I knew I had to be hiking before 7am in the summers to beat the heat. Also in summers, I noticed beautiful, rippling, purple-headed grasses. I fell in love with the way they made a purple patch of hillside in the distance, and their slender, arching shape. I found them peaceful. These grasses became the symbol of my love for the Open Space.

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I knew nothing, absolutely nothing, about identifying plants in this era of my life (high school and college). So of course I turned to Google and looked up "purple grass in California", or something like that. What came up was Purple Needle Grass, Nassella Pulchra, the California state grass. Wow, I thought, I had fallen in love with the state grass of my home state! This felt special. Some time later, in what was a wonderful and synchronistic experience (feel free to ask), this became my very first tattoo. I love it dearly, as I loved the grass.

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My first summer after college, I was working on a trail crew in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. I attended events at the native plant nursery there and started to identify plants native to the coastal habitat. One day, a nursery staff pointed out Purple Needle Grass. I did a double take. This purple needle grass was kinda different from MY purple needle grass. It was even more slender and wispy-- beautifully delicate, bunched at the base. Realizing I needed some clarification, I quickly asked the staff whether there are similar looking grasses around the area. She responded saying that, yes there is an invasive brome species called Ripgut Brome that is quite similar (!). Then and there I realized I had fallen in love with and gotten tattooed onto my body an invasive plant. 

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purple grass tattoo

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Some days I care about this confusion, most of the time I don't. It's kind of comical, really. In any case, it's a beautifully done tattoo, plant identification accuracy aside, so I am proud of it. What I know is that my love for the purple grass was pure and integrally rooted in my deep connection to the Walnut Creek Open Space, to the vast amount of time I spent exploring alone, learning to appreciate the subtleties of a place and of myself. I processed many matters of the heart there, made a point to bring important people in my life to visit there, and I return every single time I visit the Bay Area. I can still tell you where the trails go. 

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Now, living in the Southern Arizona desert a decade later, I still find myself moved by certain plants. Each place I've lived since the Bay Area has its particular plant(s) that I will forever recall when I think of that place. 

Grand Canyon~ Blue Grama grass 

Flagstaff~ Ponderosa Pine, Penstemons

Tucson~Arizona poppy, Globe Mallow

Canelo~ Sprucetop Grama grass, Emory Oak

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kallstroemia grandiflora arizona poppy

The Arizona Poppy, Kallstroemia grandiflora has been my muse of late and the plant I will always associate with my time living in Tucson. If you're tired of me gushing over her, I'm not sorry. In my barren urban backyard these flowers bring joy. If you think about it, flowers are utterly incredible aside from being beautiful. Especially those that bloom day after day in over 100 degree heat, in full sun. I touch the ground around the plants and say thank you. Thank you for rooting me to this part of the world. 

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arizona poppy necklace in silver, 18k and carnelian

This necklace inspired in shape and form by Arizona Poppy flowers. 

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