There has been an absolute stampede of changes in the plant communities over the past two weeks. I live in the foothills, and every few weeks I make the drive to the next town north of us. There are two routes – one through my town, and one slightly to the east, along the river. I took the river road, through the wide valley between upland sagebrush mesas, that wound and bobbed between hay fields and farms, cresting along the edge of the unending sagebrush before diving back down to the densely vegetated fields of timothy (Phleum spp.) on the valley floor. Adequate precipitation in early spring has greatly contributed to the abundant vegetation along the road sides, and I am likely a danger to myself and others as I drive along, peering intently in the ditches in an attempt to identify plant species at 60 mph. The timothy fields are at least knee high, interseeded with nebulous patches of smooth brome (Bromus inermis) and sometimes agricultural alfalfa (Medicago sativa) interspersed for mixed hay. In the wind it shimmers and ripples, and waves of green, gold, and mauve sway in the gentle breeze – sometimes flattened as they are broadsided by the downdrafts from spring thunderstorms.
The road along the river bisects numerous sagebrush pastures where faded Indian paintbrush (Castilleja wyomingensis) – once vibrant and abundant, like miniature fireworks bursting forth from the silver background of sagebrush – gives way to the bobbing heads of Sego lily(Calochortus nuttallii). Sego lily appears seemingly overnight in a perfectly timed and choreographed emergence of delicate white flowers. Each plant produces one white flower on one slender, silvery-green stalk. The flowers are like upside down bells of white. Three wide petals with narrow points are interconnected at the base – each petal exposing a deep purple spot suspended part way up the petal, with a spray of yellow stamens in the center. Their appearance is even more startling as they protrude above the sagebrush layer in a widely but deliberately spaced sea of heads, bobbing in the wind like fireflies in a pasture at dusk – blinking as the sun catches the translucent white of their petals, and waving to and fro as delicate dancers with their bumbling and stumbling sagebrush partners.