The Barren Fairyland

The barren rocks and the rich fairyland

The grim, black rocks and the fairyland

The Barren Fairyland

What is spring?  We picture a fecundity of lush vegetation: of fat flowers, of soft meadow grasses, and thick canopies of fresh green, of gentle, fragrant breezes, clouds of succulent vegetation.  This is a garden of the imagination.  In California spring   carries a different visage, a reflection of the harshness of the environment, of the pale blue dome of the sky, the infertile soils, the sun that dominates every aspect of life.  The California spring contains the moments where life breathes easily before the sun and arid heat beats all life down for months that seem endless, and where detail disappears.  Each moment carries significance, energy exploding in tiny detail, but most intensely in the minute loveliness of the flowers.  Each species invites close examination, and contain worlds far beyond what one would think some of the world’s most infertile soils could generate.  The Bird’s Eye Gilia’s  5-petaled flowers have lavender edges  fading to white, but the throat is a deep black and the anthers and pollen are fluorescent blue. The whole diminutive thing smells like violets.  The cream cups- Platycodon  californicus similarily have pale yellow edges, fading to cream in the center and have multiple stamens of delicate definition like a Japanese painting in cream.  The California poppies scream life among barren grasses and landscapes. Goldfields are sprinkled like raindrops from the sun……………..


This landscape invites close examination and pausing.  It is a land where we must take the moment to see because the details are so fleeting and may not reappear.  What is hierarchy? As humans we feel we are the most powerful beings. We are at the ultimate point of our power, yet if we pause for a moment we can feel diminutive among the diminutive.  These landscapes contain a Zen of contemplation-  how can each tiny flower contain such perfection of  design, of life?  Each flower is a vehicle of life.  The process begins with appreciation.   Appreciation begins in the details of one diminutive flower.  Which one should we choose?  All.


The barren serpentine soils common to California support a fairyland vegetation of minute detail and intense color; a sparse and diminutive world that takes on a surreal life of its own- far from our typical conception of beauty.  Taken in on a large scale they appear sparse and barren.  It is only when one  engages in the miniature that the intricate and intensely detailed world comes alive and the brush strokes of the painting stand out in detail.


Gray, stiff grasses tear the landscape of fairyland flowers between blackened, grim rocks under the pool of palest blue sky- .  What is more real? – the  hardness of the rocks, the stiffness of the grasses,  or the flowers spilled from the sun?  If one walks up the hillside- the shape and species of the grasses (Festuca californica) soften the miniaturized (scrub oaks) oaks, and are broken by sudden explosions of crimson fritillaries, arresting under the pale sky.   Mauve native onions explode from the rocks- denizens of the worlds of complete summer  barrenness.  Ceanothus cuneatus is pyramidal from generations of deer browse, yet intensely fragrant, the harshness of its miniature oak leaves in complete contrast with the sweet perfume of its flowers.  Oaks, deprived of height and stature still speak with significance; their dwarf forms twisted by the environment speak with emphasis and are cloaked in thick cloaks of moss. They are there long beyond generations of man.

A fairyland of birds eye gilia, cream cups, California poppies and goldfields, golden serpentine violas, fluorescent mauve onions, strident yellow mimulus glistens and sparkles at the base of the hill, droplets of charm and color as if the transparent and ephemeral rain manifested itself in fleeting jewels we must make an effort to catch before they slip away as fairies do in moments lost forever…


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