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Picking wildflowers

Erica Ramsey Louder for Progressive Cattle Published on 29 June 2021

In country music, picking wildflowers is a euphemism for the kind of shenanigans my 8- and 5-year-old daughters know nothing about. Their earnest cries to pick wildflowers is completely innocent and 100% literal.

Ever since the first of May when they saw the balsam root blooming, they’ve been asking me to take them out to pick wildflowers. They’d been out on their ponies in the pasture, pushing cattle down to the corrals for the last breeding, when Cora spotted the small, yellow, daisylike flowers.

All through June, they asked and asked, and finally in the evening on summer solstice, I relented. It was nearly nine in the evening but still sunny and pleasant, and the girls loaded up the four-wheeler. Pint mason jars filled with water jostled against the metal rack as we bumped our way up to the dry pasture, and I attempted to live in the moment despite my running to-do list.

In the high desert of southern Idaho, prime wildflower season is between mid-May and mid-June, but this year’s drought cut the season short, and by June 21, we’d missed much of the color. About 25% of our property is considered dry pasture and is where the wildflower picking takes place. That part of the property is home to native sagebrush and lava rock that has been there for a millennium. The pioneering settler who cleared our farm to plant hay, wheat and barley realized the futility of clearing those sections. In doing so, the native grasses, yarrow and globe mallow are there for my daughters to harvest in abundance, alongside the invasive lupine and scotch thistle that, while a nuisance for the cattle, are beautiful in bloom.

The thumb on my right hand began to cramp, so I turned the four-wheeler driving over to the eight-year-old, and she expertly maneuvered us to the best place to get lupine and globe mallow. The girls cut the orange and purple flowers with last year’s school scissors and asked if I was going to take a turn. I declined and watched them snip the flowers low to the ground and strip part of the foliage, just like I taught them to do.

We loaded back on to the four-wheeler, and Cora slowly drove around the canal, and she told me she had a surprise. We pulled up to a clearing, and she instructed me to look around. On top of the little ridge, beyond the big canal, was a field of native yarrow. Their white heads and distinctive, earthy smell filled my nostrils and I smiled. Cora looked and me and smiled too. “I told you so,” her smile said to me. They filled another of the jars with yarrow and placed it next to the mallow and lupine on the rack to rattle and clink as we moved along.

The last place we went was where they’d seen the balsam root. Cora thought it was probably too short to cut, but she still wanted to show it to me anyway. It was up by the largest of the pivots, right near the starter box. We pulled up there, and she killed the engine. It was a little hike to find it, but when we did, Cora realized the blooms were gone. It was the driest June on record, so I wasn’t surprised, but she was disappointed. As we’d hunted for those yellow flowers, the sun began to set. It was the longest day of the year, and the previous year had felt like one of the longest of my life. As I stood there with my girls, exhausted and a little sunburnt from the day’s farm work, and we watched the sun recede in the sky, I felt contented. Among my own ambition for the farm, our cattle, my flowers and my writing, contentment doesn’t come easily. But, I felt it in that moment, and I knew I needed that chance to slow down and quite literally, pick wildflowers.  end mark

PHOTO: Wildflower pickers. Photo by Erica Ramsey Louder.

Erica Ramsey Louder is a freelance writer based in Idaho.

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