The top of Tronsen Ridge was a dusty light brown, maybe 20 yards across and then a steep slope dropped down on both sides. The undulating trail extended along the rolling crest for several miles, but the flowers had stopped my progress. Lupines, paintbrushes, penstemons, daisies, buckwheats glowed blue, yellow, purple, or white. Dust scattered as my knees hit the ground so I could peer, inches away, into the complex structure of a Thompson’s paintbrush, a species I had never seen before. Most paintbrushes are some shade of red or pink but not this one. A washed-out whitish-green seemed not as vibrant as the scarlet paintbrush that was in the wet meadows, but it had an unusual draw to me. The color gave me a warm feeling, a sense of satisfaction, success.
The blooms for all these species seemed to be at their peak, all rushing to complete their reproductive cycle before this ridge totally dried out in the summer sun and wind. The actual flower on these six-inch tall paintbrushes are minuscule in size, and I would need to pick the top apart and look at it with a magnifying glass to see the reproductive parts. In paintbrushes, modified leaves make what we think are the flowers. This particular patch had a dozen or so stems sticking up, forming an upside-down rounded mound, thick, artistic in nature. Probably the clumped design helps the plant conserve water in this dry environment.
Farther down the trail, a sea of yellow off to my left caught my eye. A dozen or more patches of arrow-leaf balsamroot extended up the slope toward the ridgeline. Each cluster, three or four feet across, had several dozen yellow flowers, most three inches in diameter. The blossoms waved in the light breeze. This eastern side of the ridge must hold water longer, and that allowed the balsamroot to grow so big. These clumps might be as old as me or even much older. A seed germinates, and the young plant survives if it is in a good place. Each year, it grows bigger, dividing vegetatively, making the clump bigger, spreading. Just like the peony plant I have in my yard that has doubled in size in the last two years.
A half dozen groups of balsamroots had grown together, forming a crescent moon shape that curled around in front of me. In the center, purple lupines gave a contrast to the yellow. Behind the crescent lay a large ponderosa pine log, its reddish bark with black charred parts adding to the mosaic. I began to photograph the scene from several angles and perspectives. The colors were mesmerizing, the design fascinating.
The ponderosa pine had fallen some time ago; it was now dead. Had a fire killed it or did the wind cause it to lose its footing and fall. Its muted-red bark kept drawing my eyes from the yellow and purple flowers. Peering through my camera, I found a position where the bark formed a frame across the upper edge, giving an accent to the yellow and purple and to the light green leaves of the balsamroots. My knees were in the trail, and my body hunched over to create this perspective. I held that position for the longest time after lowering my camera, my eyes fixated, but my mind was still absorbed by time.
Tronsen Ridge Trailis on the east side of the Cascades, 100 miles from Seattle, Washington. In June, the wildflowers can be spectacular. We hiked it on 16 June. A high clearance vehicle is advised for reaching the trailhead.