October 28, 2017

Yuba Trail
Buttermilk Trail along the South Yuba (watercolor and colored pencil on Cold press illo board)

Visited my son at UC Santa Cruz for the first time this weekend. But the motel I stayed at had WIFI that didn’t seem to be working. So, here is my week’s offering. (Go Banana Slugs!)

This week’s blog is going to seem a little wimpy compared to last week’s entry. But I need a break from reality right now and could use a reminder of a favorite California place, a favorite flower (lupine) and a very favorite children’s picture book—Miss Rumphius (aka the Lupine Lady), story and pictures by Barbara Cooney. I am trying to look past all the serious news of late and maybe focus on something that might make the world seem more beautiful.

So, let’s start with a virtual trip to this place at a cooler time of the year. This is the Buttermilk Bend Trail along the South Fork of the Yuba River and I did the landscape about 15 springs ago. My son and I walked along the trail and looked down the hillside at these lupines and poppies. I think this was the hike we also saw a baby rattlesnake slithering along the same trail beside us. Anyway, the Yuba is pretty awesome and runs year round. Most of this water is run off from the snow pack in the Sierra, and yes, it is cold year round. It looks pretty peaceful from up above on the trail, but don’t be fooled. In the spring it can run fast and every year people drown in the river because they underestimate the swift moving water and overestimate their ability to swim or paddle around in it. (Uh-oh, got too serious…You can catch a glimpse of the opal blue river in the upper left corner of this piece.)

Now, on to the lupines. How hard could it be to grow them? For me it has never been easy, as I have had limited success planting them. I think it’s because I tend to over think the whole process and then once a few pop up I tend to over tend them. At the end of one summer I made a plan to have lots and lots of lupines. I mixed a couple pounds of seed with a couple pounds of soil and then I just spread the mixture evenly in a weed free patch of dirt. There wasn’t a huge display, but some did manage to pop out of the ground and bloom. However, none of them reseeded. I didn’t have any luck transplanting small lupine seedlings I found by the side of the road either. An editor at “Southern Living” told me once planted, a lupine seed immediately sends down a long taproot. For the plant to survive and grow that root must find just the right conditions in the soil and then it will send up the top part of the plant that will hopefully become a thin and pointy “sun-seeking” green stem. Then the leaves appear and finally a flower. I am reading the book Lab Girl and in it, Hope Jahren (the author) says that the odds are a million to one that a seed will succeed and become a viable plant. So, it’s kind of amazing to me that these sturdy little flags of blue, purple, pink, yellow and white are found all over the US. According to the New England Historical Society there was a woman named Hilda Edwards (aka Hilda Lupina or the Lupine Lady) who, in the first part of the 20th century, planted lupine seeds that she had brought from her native England to the coast of Maine. Those very lupines not only grew, but also thrived there. And that particular variety isn’t even native to the area. To add insult to my inability to plant a few lupines in my garden, this “Lupine Lady” did her planting in secret. It appears she would put lupine seeds in her pockets and toss them by the side of road, when no one was looking as she walked to the post office. Well, someone must have seen her, I guess…

Barbara Cooney took this real live person and fashioned her own “Lupine Lady” in her picture book Miss Rumphius. But the overall theme of the story is more than just a bunch of pretty purple flowers blanketing some of the hillsides of Maine. Miss Rumphius had a three-part goal that included traveling the world, living by the sea and doing something to make the world more beautiful. And Miss Rumphius did this by planting lupine seeds all along the hills and dales of coastal Maine.

I was fortunate enough me meet a true life California Lupine Lady in the early 1990’s. At the time she was a professor of Natural History at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. And she had gotten a grant to come to the botany department of the Academy of Sciences during the summer months. Her job was to try to identify the stacks and stacks of California lupines that had been preserved, collected and stored in the herbarium over time. I brought her a copy of Miss Rumphius one day. She thought Ms. Cooney’s art and story were as wonderful as I.

So, apparently I will not be known as the California Lupine Lady. But I think I will try to make California seem more beautiful and memorable, one painting and story at a time.

Note regarding the Texas Lupine Lady: Ladybird Johnson, Lyndon Johnson’s wife, was quite an advocate of planting blue bonnets (a perky deep indigo and white lupine) in her native Texas. Look up the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas. It is part of the University of Texas botanical garden that seeks to promote conservation of native plants in designed and natural landscapes. Making the world in Texas seem more beautiful!

Oh, and go Dodger BLUE!!

One thought on “October 28, 2017

  1. I love lupine also and share your troubles in trying to cultivate these beautiful flowers! I have not tried to plant them from seed but two summers ago I bought a one gallon pot from the nursery at Wal-Mart. It was a yellow variety and very pretty and healthy. But it did not survive the winter and did not reseed. I guess I will have to just enjoy them in the wild! Your painting is beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

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