July 1, 2017

vernal pool
Jepson Prairie vernal pool, spring 1994 (watercolor, colored pencil and gouache on cold pressed illustration board)

According to the website related to the Jepson Prairie, vernal pools are rare. So, I guess I’m glad I got out there in the native bunchgrass prairie to see these wildflowers. A vernal pool happens when winter rainwater is trapped in a pool just above an impermeable layer of soil. But the pool doesn’t last long, and during that time a variety of plants and animals go through a brief, but definitive, life cycle. Once the water evaporates completely that lush and lively spot dries up. Some of the creatures that inhabit the Jepson Prairie pools include: Delta green ground beetle, vernal pool fairy shrimp, Conservancy fairy shrimp, vernal pool tadpole shrimp, and the California tiger salamander. And a number of these creatures are either endangered and/or threatened. I think one of the coolest parts of a vernal pool is the ring of flowers that circle the edge of the pond. As the water evaporates, the pool shrinks and different varieties of flowers appear in ever shrinking rings of color. The day I was at the Jepson Prairie I saw a number of different kinds of flowers, but the yellow you see here are “butter and eggs”, tidy tips and goldfields.

So, thinking about the transitory strangeness of a vernal pool got me wondering about what I’ve seen/experienced in my life and what I might make the effort to wait around to see again. Or how likely is it that I will wait around to see or experience something new? My dad used to say that anticipation was almost as fun as the actual meal, special vacation and/or movie. He also said that it was important not to expect too much, then you wouldn’t be disappointed. In a day when so many things are instantaneously available, I think I am the kind who is usually willing to wait. I hope one day to go back to the Jepson Prairie in the spring and hopefully I will see a shrimp or two, as well as my beautiful flower rings.

But sometimes waiting can be tricky. Of course no one wants to wait for the doctor. And waiting in traffic for a tow truck to clear a wreck on the freeway can be shear torture. I might add that I am not a fan of waiting in line at Disneyland for 45 minutes for a ride that will last 3 minutes or less. And getting a Fastpass or reserving a place online for a ride is just insane to me. You could be standing in line for a ride somewhere else in the park when your scheduled time comes up and you have to run to get to your reserved ride time in time—I have had that happen! I saw that Johnny Depp was hanging around inside The Pirates of the Caribbean ride the other day. What are the chances I would have been floating by in my little boat when he popped out and started chatting with people? If I had known he was going to be there, I might have waited in line, but for how long? I am willing to wait for a favorite weekly program rather than binge watch any show. I am willing to wait for a chocolate chip cookie that has cooled slightly, as I am not interested in burning my tongue on molten chocolate chips. And I am willing to wait for a cooked cookie and do not want to eat raw cookie dough. I am willing to wait for flowers or vegetables to pop up from the ground after I have planted and watered them. I guess that means that for the most part I am willing to wait and I value delayed gratification.

When my son was little I wrote and illustrated a series of stories for The Tribune newspaper in San Luis Obispo. (In a previous blog I shared a story I did about some birds in my backyard.) In those pieces I wrote about plants, animals, books, gifts, and activities—with a sprinkling of life lessons one could learn in the garden. In another story I suggested to parents that it was worth it to plant tulips in the fall with their kids as a way to teach them delayed gratification. Even though my son isn’t little anymore, I still think it’s a good thing to do with kids. Then when spring comes around they will see these beautiful pointy green shoots push through the ground, and then they can watch as small globes of color open up on perfect green stalks. I think that kind of beauty is worth the wait! This time of year you could plant vegetables and/or flowers for later summer color. I am partial to cosmos, marigolds, sunflowers, pumpkins and morning glory as they will still be colorful even into the fall. Oh, and if you do decide to plant tulips next fall with your kids, be sure to put them in the ground pointy side up and watch for gophers. Otherwise, you might be looking at a garden lesson that has more to do with handling frustration or anger. You can never know what will happen in the garden, you just have to wait and see.

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