Tick Tock

June 16, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

I got hooked on wildflowers while living in New Hampshire. Lupine season in the White Mountains is lovely; fields explode with color as the spikes bloom in late spring. They're not just blue and purple, either. You'll see plenty of white and pink flowers, plus all sorts of interesting hybrids if you keep your eyes open - like pale peach, pale yellow, blush pink, and lavender. 

Grand Teton National Park has lupines, too (purple only), but the more prolific springtime floral displays come from the opposite side of the color wheel. Yellow.  Pops of SunshinePops of SunshineArrowleaf balsamroot add splashes of cheerful yellow to the fields of Jackson Hole in late spring. (Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming)

First up is the Arrowleaf balsamroot. Hardy and drought-tolerant, they belong to the sunflower family and grow in clumps that look like bouquets. Their bloom is followed by a similar yellow flower, the Mule Ear (aster family).

In early to mid-June various areas of the park are decorated with splashes of bright yellow that go on seemingly as far as the eye can see. Bottom line: if you like yellow, you'll find plenty of it in the Tetons this time of year. Even if yellow isn't your favorite color, it's hard to look at these plants and resist their charms. 

Anyone who shoots wildflowers knows it's more difficult to make good photographs featuring blooms than one might think. You're looking for plants that are as pristine as possible: not past peak and definitely not chomped full of holes from hungry insects. They need to be oriented correctly if you're going to compose for a bigger landscape. And so on. It can take a lot of roaming around fields before finding something that might work.

As with any type of nature photography, conditions are the biggest wildcard. This becomes a little more complicated when dealing with a show that is relatively brief. Like the autumnal foliage display, timing is everything; you want to catch the blooms when they're looking their best. Unfortunately, spring is the windiest time of the year in Teton Country. Wind and flowers don't mix well.

I've been shooting the Arrowleaf balsamroot for a number of seasons with mixed results. It was so windy last year I didn't make a single image I considered a keeper. Likewise, this spring has been brutal with day after day of sustained winds in the 20-30mph range. At some point, though, you just have to go for it. The flowers aren't going to wait.

I chose a window that, if the forecast held, promised a bit of a weather smorgasbord: windy followed by a period of relative calm followed by a chance of rain the next day. Approaching fronts in the spring always mean hang on to your hat and prepare to batten down the hatches, so while a chance of rain could mean interesting skies it just about guaranteed more wind.

Not ideal, but what is it they say about desperate times?

Upon arrival it was, as promised, blowing pretty aggressively. (My wind app indicated 21mph, which it refers to as "fresh." Which makes me laugh.) The flowers were being tossed around so much it was difficult to determine which of them might make good subjects for later but I could see those who were past prime and look for groupings that might make good compositions.  

I didn't expect to make any photographs until the next morning. Still, as the day began to wind down, I returned to an area I'd scouted earlier that afternoon. It had clouded over almost completely but the wind was much calmer. I figured I might as well wait and see what would happen. I shot for about an hour, experimenting with various compositions I thought I might try the next morning while keeping an eye on the sky. Surprisingly, the overcast began to break.

This park, though stingy with sunsets, looked as though it might deliver one.

Too much air movement remained to allow for tight shots of the blooms, so I switched gears and went for a wider composition. Better to have everything crisply in focus. The last image I made was the panoramic pictured below (it's three verticals stitched together) which captured the shadows created by the peaks of Grand Teton and Middle Teton as the sun dipped toward the horizon.  

Not at all what I anticipated. 

Better.

You never know what might happen.

Sleep TightSleep TightThe sun sets behind the Teton Range, bidding the wildflowers goodnight. (Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming)


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