Settle In

A rainy West Kootenay day. Kinsey, my trusted canine camas explorer, would be under the bed if the mattresses weren’t already on the floor. There has been thunder today and Kinsey may take on a city park with the determination of a hound, but she hates thunder. Yes, Kinsey, it’s a good day to stay inside.


With thunder come rain showers, so it’s okay with me. I’m torn, though, feeling like, on one hand (er, paw?), I should nurture my poor little dog, maybe curl up with her in a blanket on the bed and watch “All Dogs go to Heaven” on Netflix and, on the other hand, I could be dancing in the streets for the rain that will rejuvenate the perennial camas lilies.


The camas populations in Millennium Park are going great guns now. The recent warm temperatures and sunshine, parried with the rain, has sparked the release of the bulbs tucked safe under the ground in their blanket of soil. Just a couple of weeks ago their linear leaves hadn’t flung themselves forth from the comfort of the earth. Though, no doubt, with the mild winter, they were surging and seething just under the soil surface, getting ready to face another growing season of too little water, nutrients, and space and too much unashamed disregard and apathy and large earth-ripping machinery. This is life for the urban camas populations in Castlegar.


So Kinsey and I will be heading to the park, and likely other local places, to keep a watch on the camas throughout the growing season this year. Guaranteed it won’t be during a thundershower. We will keep our powers of observation open, though my canine companion is fonder of following her nose than her eyes. (I wonder what camas smells like to a dog? Huh.) Noting that the camas that has managed to remain in areas where the soil has been disturbed – perhaps a shallow scalping from a shovel of a parks worker, or a deeper churning of the soil layers from those splendid camas salvagers last fall, or the ill-fated camas poking up through the gravel of the parking lot – are emerging quicker and more densely than the camas in the deep grasses or those under the canopy of the encroaching pines. Marveling at the phoenix-like rebirth of an ephemeral plant, what most mindful people would simply recognize as an early spring wildflower, and pondering over its genetic memory.


Don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware a plant doesn’t have a mind, and hence the ability to lay down experiences within it. However, if one believes that this is a plant that has been caught up in a sophisticated trapeze performance for millennia, guided and delivered securely, dutifully, and repeatedly over a safety net constructed by the vast skill and stewardship of humans, how long do you think it will last without the net? The answer is, remarkably long, as it turns out. For those who work with a net for centuries can certainly perform well without one. And camas does. Responding to environmental cues, changing form to meet with new conditions, maneuvering with the retained tending of careful human intervention. There is a deep understanding here, a relationship of trust and responsibility. Thanks to the indigenous caregivers for this gift of the lovely lily.


Now it is a mere, often discounted, wildflower; many people don’t know about its heritage, its story of resilience and sustenance. Evoked tenacity and sustained productivity that attracted the ungulates and fed nations. A plant nourished by flood and freed by flames. Reaching toward heaven each spring for the showers that accompanies the thunder. So that, in the face of unforgiving foot traffic, the bulbs can swell and split and the supple green leaves can unfurl. And with sun, and rain, the camas lilies will bloom and show off their delicate light blue flowers for the pollinators and the nature photographers. Capture our wistful imaginations and remind us of the tender fragile balance of native species sharing this space with us. Plants that are easily crushed under my runners and Kinsey’s paws and desiccated with the onslaught of the shifting precipitation patterns of climate change. Yet, the lilies afford no formal protection because of their resolute endurance and common nature. An ironic result for a co-evolved plant resource once cultivated sustainably and cherished as kin.


So, dance in the rain. Watch for the camas. Learn its heritage, and when the thunder comes, retire inside to your blanket and, with your shivering scared dog, watch a movie. “All Camas reach for Heaven,” could be a good title for a native lily with a remarkable story to tell.   Settle in.