Following Flower Season

Tiburon mariposa lily - 1

For years I’d heard about the threatened and protected Tiburon mariposa lily. A small population of individuals blooms for a few weeks on a single serpentine outcrop at Ring Mountain Open Space Preserve, and nowhere else in the world.

I at last decided to find the lily, researching its location online. I stumbled around on the crisscross of unmarked trails and found the general vicinity where the plant grows. I headed out alone, late in the day when the shadows were long and the trails were empty. I ended up on various side trails, poking around along the rocks. To protect them, there is no signage marking the exact spots where the lily grows. I had memorized the photos I’d seen, but realized since it’s not a showy flower and only the size of a quarter, I could easily miss it.

And there it was, right beside the trail. A single flower.

Tiburon mariposa lily - 2
Tiburon mariposa lily, Ring Mountain Open Space Preserve

It was deeply moving to sit beside one of the world’s rare living things. I reached to touch it as I do with most plants, but extra gently. In the silence I appreciated that it exists, and felt grateful to those who arranged for The Nature Conservancy to purchase and protect this property until it could become public land.

That first visit to Ring Mountain was six years ago. I still visit each June to see the flowers, as I did a few days ago. This season after years of drought, the plants could barely eke out their blossoms, noticeably smaller and paler than I’ve ever seen them.

There is a depth of connection that comes with returning to familiar places over time. I have come to know which trails to hike at which time so that I can visit particular flowers I’m fond of.

This year, I’ve missed nearly the entire wildflower season while I’m recovering from the sprain that accompanied my broken ankle in January. Except for the Tiburon mariposa lily, a late bloomer that grows not far from the trailhead, I’ve had to be satisfied with memories and photos from previous trips. I’m smiling, though, looking at these images and thinking about next year.

Oakland mariposa lily - Mt. Tam Van Wyck Meadow 5-2013
Oakland mariposa lily, Bootjack Trail, Mt. Tamalpais State Park

 Baby blue eyes at Mt Tamalpais 3-2009
Baby blue eyes, High Marsh Trail, Mt. Tamalpais State Park

California bead lily at Mt Tamalpais 5-2013 California bead lily, TCC Trail, Mt. Tamalpais State Park

Face to Face with an Endangered Species

Listening to birds is one of the things I love about being outdoors, especially when I’m hiking alone. In spring, the avian chorus is at its peak during nesting season. On a morning hike in May, I had just passed the boundary of Muir Woods National Monument and entered Mt. Tamalpais State Park when the change in the sounds of the birds got my attention.

Up ahead, multiple birds were vocal, but these weren’t their lyrical springtime songs. I was hearing alarm calls. I walked a few steps further and looked up to see what was causing the fuss.

And there perched on a tree only a few feet from the trail was a northern spotted owl.

I stopped, thinking my presence and movement might startle her, wishing her to stay. If I could have held my breath, I would have. She looked down at me. And stayed. I was awestruck.

Northern spotted owl 5-2014

Getting this close to a rare wild animal touches a part of me that is wordless. I think that’s why it has taken me months to write about the experience.

When it was clear that the owl was more concerned about the songbirds dive-bombing her than she was about me, I pulled out my camera. It was new and I didn’t yet know how to work the settings so the photo isn’t sharp. But having this image brings alive the wonder I felt when for a few minutes, my life intersected with a northern spotted owl.