Wildflowers and space aliens April 23, 2011Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Porters Creek trail, Porters Flats, space aliens
Yesterday I went on a wildflower walk with an old friend. But when I think back on the experience, the subject of space aliens keeps popping into my brain. No, don’t worry, I haven’t gone around the bend. I wasn’t abducted by space aliens on the Porters Creek trail. But for some reason my friend and I got onto the conversational topic of space aliens, and once the topic was introduced, it just wouldn’t go away.
This was the first time I have ever gone up Porters Creek to look at the wildflowers and not just to pass through on my way to the great and mysterious regions of Dry Sluice manway or Lester Prong that lie beyond, as I did a few weeks ago. This was not going to be a huge hiking challenge, it was going to be a wildflower stroll. I met up with my friend Bill at 9:00, under drizzly skies, and we headed up the trail. We saw plenty of yellow trillium right at the trailhead.
We were experiencing Phase 2 of the kaleidoscopic procession of spring wildflowers in the Smokies. I have usually gone up Porters Creek during Phase 1, the phase of fringed phacelia and large-flowered white trillium. This time, the phacelia were all gone and the large white trillium were either shriveled up or had gone into their faded pinkish stage. The sparkling carpets of phacelia are truly wonderful, but I must say one advantage of this later stage is that it is more colorful.
We saw a cluster of showy orchis, a relative of the ladyslipper that I don’t see very often.
We went up to the old Smoky Mountains Hiking Club cabin and looked for graffiti from old-timers in the 1930s that an acquaintance had recently spotted there, but we couldn’t find it. Bill and I were chatting about what we’d had for breakfast that morning, and I told him that on my drive over from Asheville I’d stopped at a convenience store at the Hartford exit and picked up an apple danish that turned out to be really horrible. “It tasted like it came from outer space,” I said. Bill replied, “And we all know what a danish from outer space tastes like.” For some reason, it was really funny. You had to be there.
Continuing toward the crossing of Porters Creek, we encountered a cluster of painted trillium growing right out of the top of a mossy boulder. It was beautiful.
At Porters Flats, we saw that the phacelia were all gone, as we’d expected. We stopped frequently to admire the flowers, the giant trees, and the beautiful stream running fast down the valley. Unfortunately, the subject of food from outer space had gripped Bill’s imagination, so our cries of “Isn’t that beautiful!” were interspersed with random musings about the space alien menu.
We reached Fern Branch Falls.
The sun was starting to come out. We passed masses of phlox and foamflower that made a nice contrast to each other in both color and shape.
I loved the communities of geraniums, which have two big attractions, from my point of view: that shade of purple is just wonderful, and the foliage has such an intricate shape. There was such a tremendous concentration of geraniums in this particular spot that I decided this section of the trail must have absolutely the ideal conditions for these plants.
I saw one odd cluster of densely concentrated bluets.
Our conversation had progressed on to recent developments in our families, books we had read, and other good subjects. But, unfortunately, when we reached Backcountry Campsite 31, the space aliens came back. Although Bill’s pop culture IQ is generally much higher than mine, I was surprised to find out that he had never learned about the primary, well, anatomical method by which aliens obtain information about the human beings they abduct. Everyone knew that, I thought—there was a huge amount of laughter on the subject. We broke off our conversation just in the nick of time, for a group of polite retirees walked in to the campsite with friendly greetings.
Experiences are often composed of unrelated themes that become tightly interwoven. So I present to you the whole experience rather than the usual edited one.