We are in the middle of a blizzard, here in my hometown at the foot of the snow covered Northern Rockies. It started snowing on Thursday morning and hasn’t let up since, with more than 24 inches of the white stuff piled on ground so far. The entire landscape is buried in white, with touches of gray and black peeking out from trees and shrubs not yet completely covered.
That’s the way the year ends and begins here in Big Sky Country. In the Fall, the landscape is slowly drained of color, as the Autumn leaves turn black and blow away, and the yellows and tans of the surrounding plains become encrusted in snow. By March or April, some of the tan colors slowly reappear from under the snow banks, brightened by a few sprigs of green. By June, the mountain meadows, the forests and for that matter our gardens are bursting with many shades of green in that sudden way that only northern landscapes seem to do.
I see the passage of seasons here in the north as the coming and going of color. I try to rush the reappearance of color in Springtime and delay its leaving in the Fall. We all need that feast for the eyes that Summer colors bring.
The truth be told, Montana Winters are frequently not that bad, at least compared to those in the Upper Midwest. But they are long and colorless, only broken up by a deep blue sky on colder days. That's the reason I escape to the Southwestern deserts for a few weeks every Spring. In March, after driving nearly one thousand miles south through heavy traffic and darkness, snow and ice, Interstate 15 drops two thousand feet off the edge of the Colorado Plateau into the beginnings of the Mojave Desert. The next morning at dawn, in Valley of Fire State Park, the sun's rays turn the red rocks surrounding camp bright orange. Now that's a sight for sore eyes, dulled by the Winter's muted tones.
The colors of the rocks alone would be worth the trip, but then there's the desert wildflowers. There weren't many this past Spring, but a few like this Rockshrub bloomed along the path set by a small rain shower months before. The pale cream colored blooms and dark green leaves were in stark contrast to the pure black color of the surrounding volcanic rock.
It doesn't take much color to cheer me up by that time of the year. The tiny orange flowers of a Turtleback, struggling to survive on the rocky floor of the desert wash are always amazing to behold in such a hostile environment.
In another wash just after dawn, a line of Creosote Bushes add a touch of green to the sulfur yellows and chocolate browns of the rock walls.
Back at home in Montana, Spring is way behind the desert, but the first bloom of Chive blossoms add beautiful color to herbal vinegar. A taste of Spring saved for Wintertime.
Western Montana has been blessed with several wet Springs in recent years, partially making up for a couple of drier Winters. The heavy Spring rains bring even more color to flower gardens around town, like the wonderful collection of blubs and flowering shrubs in our friend Terry's garden.
Further on in the late Spring we've traveled westward over the Continental Divide to wine country in eastern Washington. The small town of Waitsburg has streets lined with Flowering Crab Apples, putting on a colorful show of blooming trees we have rarely seen in the Pacific Northwest.
Overhead, there is even more color, although not of the botanical kind. The Walla Walla Balloon Fest filLs the sky with color during several early morning launches.
Much later in the Summer, these light green Sauvignon Blanc grapes in the Seven Hills Vineyard will go into a pale gold wine called Luminesce, a favorite of the Expedition Photographer, Mrs. Ed.
In mid-Summer it is time to check on the alpine wildflowers in Glacier National Park. A 6AM dawn paints the high mountains at Two Medicine with a rosy alpenglow.
Along the small streams draining the high mountain cirques are the bright pink Monkeyflowers.
Beside a rushing cascade, a lone Indian Paintbrush takes root in the dark rock.
On drier limestone soils there are bunches of electric-blue Mountain Bluebells.
When Summer rolls into early Fall, canning season arrives at home. It's hard to take a good picture of a tomato vine in the garden, but it is always a tradition to photo document the preserved fruits of Summer's bounty.
By mid-Autumn, there are only two bursts of color left in the Northern Rockies landscape. By late September, the Quaking Aspen and Cottonwood trees line the rivers with gold and yellow, like here along the North Fork of the Flathead Wild and Scenic River.
Several weeks later in mid-October, the Alpine Larch turn a brilliant gold, before dropping their needles along the banks of the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.
2012 was another great year, spent outdoors as much as possible, gardening or hiking or just sitting watching the sun set into the Pacific at Cape Dissapointment State Park in southwest Washington.
It will be at least four months of black and white before a touch of color returns to the frozen landscape.