Anna Maria Spagna: Gone Native


She fills her pockets and her pack and her shirt and loiters extended, as well extended, till our companions move on up the trail.  Miles from right here they will verify their watches or the angle of the sun by way of the forest and, if they are in the know, shake their heads. Meanwhile, she slips a papery pod by way of her calloused fingertips.   

“Too green,” she says.  

Then she tests a single additional, peeling back the brown transparent husk, veins like parallel pen-and-ink strokes, fine and thin in the silhouette of the light.   

“Just appropriate,” she says.

She slips it into a baggie, then into a side pocket of her Carthartt shorts.

“Take only photos, leave only footprints,” I say.  

She shrugs and reaches for the subsequent pod.  I set my pack on the ground, retrieve a water bottle and sigh.

My wife touching a seed head close to Dayton, Washington // Photo by Anna Maria Spagna

From time to time we carry the Pojar.  The complete title is Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast: Washington, Oregon, British Columbia &amp Alaska, compiled and edited by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon, but Northwesterners who appreciate native plants get in touch with it merely the Pojar.  Like the Bible.   Today’s booty is lupine.  According to the Pojar, grizzlies favor Nootka lupine, and native tribes ate the roots, pit-cooked in spite of the truth that it is chock-complete of toxic alkaloids.   (Do not attempt this at residence!)   Blue and pea-like and ubiquitous, lupine also has roots thick as a forearm and stubborn as a two-year old at bedtime.  That final portion is not in the Pojar, but I’m right here to inform you it is accurate. We’ve attempted transplanting.  No luck.  So now it is the seeds. A neighbor purchased fifty pounds of native lupine seed and provided us all we’d like, but she’ll have none of it.  

“Why not?” I asked.

“I like to gather my personal,” she stated.  “It’s my hobby.”  

When she was a kid she picked up rocks on the beach, each rock, and cried if she had to leave just before she’d gotten them all, her parents say.  I’ve heard diagnoses for this, each psychological and cultural, but I am not going there.   She’s not obsessed she’s infatuated.   She’s been seduced by the stripping, the saving, the drying, then planting, then cultivating.  Then waiting. Part of the magic is the waiting. 

Late afternoon sun highlights lupine seed pods in Rainbow Meadows, North Cascades National Park // Photo by Nancy Barnhart

“Can we go now?” I ask.  

“Not but,” she says.  “In a minute.”

At residence, seeds stick to her pockets and her socks in the laundry they overfill baggies, permanent marker labeled, on the radiant heat tiles in the bathroom, and paper sacks in the mud space, and in some cases jars in the freezer: chocolate lily, tiger lily, yarrow, phlox.   And not just seeds.   Three dozen pots line the side of the home, below the shed eaves to catch the rain. Each is filled with tiny Western red cedars, some not an inch tall, which formerly grew along a trail exactly where they sprouted, 5 thousand of them, soon after a fire.  She dug some up and packed them out.  

Cedar, according to the Pojar, was employed by natives for canoes, home planks, totem poles, paddles, baskets, clothes, dishes, ceremonial drum logs, and a assortment of tools. Non-natives like us use it is for shingles, shakes, siding, boats (some issues never ever transform), caskets, closets. The leaf oil tends to make perfumes, insecticides, veterinary soaps, shoe polishes and deodorants.  Valuable booty.

“Why’d you take the trees?”  I asked.

“They’d be cleared at some point,” she argued.  “They didn’t stand a likelihood.”

She must know. She began her life in the woods on a trail crew.  Back then, she’d cease mid-operate, tool in hand, although clearing brush from a trail into which wildflowers intruded, to strip the pods.  Rescue, it was, pure and basic.

I attempted this reasoning after in a distant national park.

“Could I have just this a single seedling, please, the a single that is developing in silt in the culvert?” I asked.

The ranger stared.

“It will be cleared at some point,” I stated.            

“If you do not want a ticket,” the ranger stated, “you can purchase a single in the visitor center for thirty bucks.”

Lupine blooms along the Stehekin River in Lake Chelan National Recreation Region. // Photo by Nancy Barnhart

Out of town guests, coerced into an innocent hike with her, are most likely to be corrupted straight away.  Her brother after collected a baggie-complete of red columbine seed.   (The Quileute, according to the Pojar, chewed columbine leaves and spat them on sores.  We do not.) He was sheepish and uncertain, not a single for civil disobedience.  But her passion is really hard to resist, so he took them residence to Seattle exactly where he stuck them in pots in his garage and waited.  Three years later, at his wedding reception, a tiny pot with a wildflower seedling sat at every guest’s table: the bounty from that trip.  He and his new wife had identified them and transplanted them and gifted them.  This year ours had seventeen blooms

Oh, there’s additional, lots additional.  Once she dug a mountain hemlock and a larch from the edge of a backcountry fire ring with flat palm-sized rock and carried them out twenty miles in her backpack involving dirty socks and Nalgene.  She’s eased dogwood seedlings from irrigation ditches.   Another book on our shelf, Propagation of Pacific Northwest Native Plants by Rose, Chachulski, and Haase, has no nickname, but our dog-eared copy does have this passage bracketed in ballpoint: “When transplanting, location Pacific dogwood in a ring of native shrubs to defend the reduced trunk and branches from sunburn.”  She did, and we now have a row of dogwoods on the path to our home, some taller than me.  We also have 3 glorious Tiger Lilies appropriate by our frost-cost-free spigot, tiger lilies with shy nodding, sepals curved backwards orange with black spots.  (Why not stripes?)  The Pojar claims that Coast Salish people today dried the bulbs and cooked them in soups with meat or fish.  

Lupine flower seed pods, higher mountain meadow in North Cascades National Park // Photo by Nancy Barnhart

Why does she do it? When we constructed our cabin in the woods a decade ago we tore out a swath of forest.  Maybe this is penance?  I doubt it. We’ve also changed the climate of the earth, the two of us and the rest of our ever-developing clan, so possibly she’d claim that this is “assisted migration,” a way to salvage species that are displaced by climate transform.  Nah. She does not move them far sufficient, a couple of miles possibly, from public land to private, from a single drainage to the subsequent, walking distance normally from our cabin, even if it is a extended stroll.  There’s no guilt involved, no higher-minded-ness—the rescue argument, even, does not hold considerably water because seeds disperse even when stalks are chopped—not even any symbiosis.  The seeds do not want us, and we do not want them.  We could purchase native plants or, hell, hollyhocks.  But there is anything in the genes, I consider, anything she shares with the Coast Salish and the Quileute.  What is it? I wonder.  Something really hard wired for survival, some deep connection to the earth?

I watch her stooped more than a section of browned up lupine involving rock talus and a blue lake, cupping a handful of lupines-to-be, funneling them into the baggie.  At residence, she’ll plant them and fence them and water them and coddle them, and she’ll hold a mental map of exactly where every has come from. For now, she turns and throws her daypack more than her shoulder and grins. 

“Let’s go,” she says. It’s glee. 

Ana Maria Spagna is a writer and former trails worker who lives–and runs, swims, hikes, skis, paddleboards, and shakes seeds from her wife’s pockets–in the North Cascades.  Her most current book is “Uplake: Restless Essays of Coming and Going.”


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