I have been drawing a lot of desert wildflowers. That's because February is here. In the southern Utah deserts this means spring will be springing. The poofs of tree blossoms begin, and at certain vantage points a quick run to the grocery store can be transformed into a visual adventure; the stark red rocks and always-crisp blue skies are our constants, so when the pastel blooms arrive, it must be February in the southwest.
The blossoms are one of the more obvious and exuberant arrivals of spring in the little towns, but once you leave the neighborhoods and venture closer to the hills and mountains, those particular blossoms fade out as the red sand takes up more space. And in the red sand, where scrubby shrubs and bushes take root, there must be magic. Not the” rich soil beneath the surface packed with the nutrients to sustain fully blossoming trees” kind of magic, but something more subtle and as far as I can tell, more powerful. I’m not really sure how, but every year, that dry red sand supports and nourishes bouquets of bright and showy wildflowers.
These are the blooms you may have to trek a little further to find, although it warms a flower loving heart to see how many of these wildflowers have been incorporated into city scapes, medians and other public places. Still, if there are wildflower adventures out in the hills, I wholeheartedly encourage a nature walk or stroll along the many hikes and paved paths.
It seems like each year there is one desert flower superstar. Like the year the hills were orange with fields of globe mallow. Or the years when we get a little more rain and the giant yuccas shoot their blooms so high you need to look wayyy up to appreciate them. Occasionally, after a 100 year storm, the whole desert bursts with flowers that have waited decades to bloom. But each year, no matter what, the sand begins to web with the sparse carpet of dark green leaves and tiny blooms of purple mat, the hills become just a little lacier with the white dots of spectacle pod, and the desert marigolds seem to sprawl from the black lava to the streets to the foothills...
In a town where my philosophies differ from the mainstream and I feel a little like a square peg in a round hole, these flowers have welcomed my soul. During the year I decided I must follow my heart and become a freelance graphic designer, I fell in love with these flowers. After one design class at our local college, a mind full of beautiful patterns and colors that I felt compelled to create, a weakening connection to my full time job, and a heart in search of my dharma, I attended a desert wildflower retreat in the wilderness that changed the direction of my life. As part of my payment, I utilized my recently acquired design skills and created the marketing materials, which gave me somewhere around thirty hours of practice to create this one flyer… And off we went.
Surrounded by a handful of powerful women I love dearly to this day, we studied the earth, the conditions in which these wildflowers flourish, their unique flower imprint and the way they could support us. These resilient little plants were so resourceful, so evolved. And they were living in their own little communities, helping each other survive. From the perspective of my artist heart, I always loved the way the native paintbrush plant’s crimson petals were so perfectly complemented by the light and dusty blue-gray of old man sage. But when I learned that the two pair up symbiotically so that the paintbrush can borrow some water from old man sage? It felt significant in my soul.
Each flower’s growing pattern, reproductive pattern, flower and leaf color and structure contribute to its unique essence. The cactus may appear gruff and protective with its spines and needles, but if you look closely, many cactus plants are very communal within their own cactus family, literally springing new life from the firmly rooted base, and eventually forming large interconnected families. They share resources, and I daresay they may never be lonely because they have the ability to generate new family members from their own heads.
But back to my point… This flower retreat. This gloriously nourishing journey to nature introduced me to our native landscape in a deeply profound way, and it rooted me in gratitude for my surroundings even when sometimes I feel like a clown hanging out with the Stepford wives... If the chapparal trees could survive thousands of years in this place and still fill the desert with the pungent, desert rain scent after every rainstorm, then I could find my own hardiness within. If Palmer’s Penstemon could summon four cars in Zion National Park to pull over and share in its intoxicatingly sweet aroma, I could use my voice to summon others to smell my intoxicatingly sweet aroma! Hell, if the fiery red flowers of firecracker penstemon could be boiled, cooled and applied to sunburns? Maybe my fiery red spirit could be transmuted into a soothing elixir for my own wounds.
That retreat was fourteen years ago. Shortly afterward, I utilized my copywriting skills to write a letter of resignation for my current full-time copywriting/marketing job and I set out to be a single parent, freelance graphic designing fool. Throughout the business famines, I always remembered and connected with these flowers, and they always lifted my spirits. I have folders and folders of flower illustrations that never made it to see the light of day. But regardless of how many greeting card projects I have abandoned over the last decade, my little flower pals always come through and greet me each spring.
So this spring, my heart is calling me to remember my flower friends and how much they have taught me. You will see this reflected in my work, and if you wonder how I could be so gushy about nature, just take a look at this post and hopefully you, too will be inspired by their magic. In a chaotic world, nature is a beautifully organizing force, and I hope I can capture a little piece of that flower power beauty in my own art.