A Gardener on an Alaskan Honeymoon

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The Alaskan honeymoon is over and I’m back at my dining room table writing another blog post.
There are lots of orders to pack and things to get done. With only a few days of summer left I’m embracing each and every one with much love. It’s been a great year for me—and an amazing summer.
An Alaskan glacier.

Going to Alaska was a bit of a surprise. I’d never visited but it has always been a dream of mine. Back when I was 18 I’d thought very seriously of going to college there to study environment science and biology. When John suggested it—since neither one of us had been there—I was so excited.

Alaskan taiga and stream.

My father always visited Alaska in early September. (He’s a salmon fisherman and that’s what you do if you fish.) I never understood why he went, and why he always seemed to miss my birthday, but I understand now.

It’s a place that gets under your skin. I want to return each and every September for my birthday now. I get it.

Alaskan birch forest, (Betula neoalaskana).  
We only saw a tiny portion of what the state has to offer. I have been to Texas and I can say now that they have nothing on Alaska. It would be far easier to survive down there than in Alaska. I think that’s a huge part of the charm. It really heightens the senses and makes you feel alive and small in its vast landscape.
Alaskan landscape.

There will be more posts to come. I have a party to prepare for right now and I must continue to work hard.

I still hear the sounds though of planes in my ears and my eyes are yet filled with the vast expanse of beauty which I’ve just witnessed.

Alaskan landscape.

I hope to find my book about the native plants of Alaska. I oddly misplaced it before we left but since it was my honeymoon I let it go. (Don’t think I just looked at plants! I won’t even begin right now to tell you about the amazing food.)

Lastly, there were the animals. We saw a lot of them but we knew it would be difficult to see grizzlies in the wild since we were traveling by car. I had even mentally prepared myself to see no bears so that I wouldn’t be disappointed. Then, to my delight and surprise—during the cruise out to the Kenai Fjords National Park—we saw a black bear cruising the beach of a small island not far from the open sea. I was quite pleased.

Ok. More on plant life soon.

What’s Your Botanical Learning Style?

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I’d wanted to have a nice long post for today, but my brain is really, seriously, quite tired. Right now I should be sleeping, but instead, I am up and exhausted from staying up late to read more and more about plants. You see, I have a long drive home now, and there are more plants to come, in different kinds of places, that have different kinds of ecosystems, and already, my brain and eyes are spinning because of plants—but not really. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here writing this post.
Looking at the wine grapes took work since I wish I could identify the different kinds just by looking at them, but I am not that talented. This shouldn’t stress me out, but it does. Right now I don’t have the energy to begin learning about any other plants since I am still being overwhelmed with the native plants of California!
Here’s a good example. Entering into this native ancient oak grove truly blew me away. The side effect though is that I have a lot more to read now. I love to go on vacation but it is so odd to return home with homework. (This was near the top when I climbed Mt. Konocti with our friend Tom.)
After that shock to the botanical senses, before we reached the peak, we were able to look out and see Mt. St. Helena in Napa. (It’s the flat-headed mountain out there near the center of the picture.) It was hard for me to believe we could see it, but we could.
Identifying plants along the way became more complicated that day, but I was really happy to have found this Cirsium occidentale. I knew what it was immediately, but I have so many more plants to memorize before I walk through the chaparral of Lake County, CA again. Everything is simply too new to me here still.
While I went off to explore each day my husband had to work. The grapes need to be harvested and processed quickly so that nothing sits around in the heat for long. It is strange to come back to your spouse as they work at a job you’ve never actually seen them do. I’ve heard about the whole process for years, but seeing it was like seeing someone new who I didn’t totally know. When he works the field, pruning and planting new vines, I understand that, but this part was new to me even though it’s similar to a popular activity in the NW called, “beer brewing.”
Right now you may be wondering about my relationship to our famous Oregon Pinot Noir, but I have never been interested in the whole lifestyle it entails in my state due to the cult of the grape that began in the 1970s when I was a girl. It has always seemed somewhat foreign to our region, and yes, Californian. Oddly enough, we don’t have a native grape vine the way California does and I think that’s telling in a way. Wine really fits into the landscape here in a way that it doesn’t in Oregon. That’s just my opinion, and I know it tastes great, but it has altered Oregon in a funny way. (I know, hops aren’t native either, but at least they seem to fit in well and they grow so well in the Willamette Valley.)
So, back to plants, on another day I drove about 80 miles into a very remote area of Lake County by myself. (You can see the road along the ridge in the picture. It’s the wavy line and it was amazing to drive along!) This may not have been the wisest decision, but it made me feel brave.
From that remote area I could look over at Mt. Konocti again and ponder how I could have ever climbed to the top! Oddly enough though I felt safe-ish as I ventured deeper into the wilderness since I could hear a lot of traffic in the air flying over the Mendocino National Forest. This is harvest season after all and I think many of you know exactly what the Feds were looking for at this time of the year.
A few days ago I landed back in San Francisco before heading south to the burbs. Seeing 1/8 or so of the San Francisco Botanical Garden was another amazing and yet visually confusing mess. I am still recovering from that walk but maybe after I visit it again once or twice a year for 10 years I’ll know all of the plants! (Bromeliads grow there “wherever”.)
I wish I could wander the streets of San Francisco just looking for these amazing little gardens. I had never seen a  Standard Fuchsia tree quite like this one before and it truly surprised me too. The streets of San Francisco are so rich with flora year-round.

So as I drive home, I will endeavor to keep my eyeballs straight and not to tire myself out with all of this seeing and looking but that’s truly how I memorize plants and I put a lot of energy into it. Today’s Halloween though, and it’s the day I head north again, so wish me luck as I enter back into the sphere of plant life I am familiar with already. I have a lifetime to learn about Californian plants and I will just have to accept that it will take that long to learn them.