Mystery Flora: An Entangled Bank, Coldwater Lake

So: this happened. The side of a volcano came down; the side of a volcano blew out. Everything died. Catastrophe, devastation, moonscape. You see something like that, and for a moment you believe life will never rise again.

But. The land heals. Things buried survive, and rise, and thrive. Life blows in, life is carried in, life sets about healing scars and making a wasteland hospitable again.

Things change. They won’t ever be the same. Where a creek flowed, the debris avalanche made a dam and created a lake.

Coldwater Lake, with the creek delta in the middle ground and Mount St. Helens in the background.
Coldwater Lake, with the creek delta in the middle ground and Mount St. Helens in the background.

Where lush, old-growth forests lived, where ash and debris buried them deep, sun-loving flowers thrive.

A shore full of flowers, Coldwater Lake
A shore full of flowers, Coldwater Lake

If you come back here, year after year, decade after decade, you begin to see the succession of plants as communities mature. The trees, bushes and flowers that love distressed lands and easy access to the sun set the stage for their own eventual replacement, as they enrich the soil, as they pioneer the way for other plants.

And as you walk here, you find tangled banks to contemplate.

Mystery Flora I
Mystery Flora I

I think of Charles Darwin, here, and the last words of The Origin (first edition).

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.

Mystery Flora II
Mystery Flora II

These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows.

Volcanoes have a hand in it, too. And I’d say flowers are pretty exalted. I certainly find them fascinating and complex.

Mystery Flora III
Mystery Flora III

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

(Note: No mention of a Creator in the First Edition. And it is just as sweeping, just as awe-inspiring, just as beautiful and terrible. More, actually, knowing no creator was required for these “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful” to evolve. You don’t have to believe.)

Mystery Flora IV
Mystery Flora IV

The forms here at Coldwater Lake aren’t technically endless, but there are many of them. How many can you find and identify?

Mystery Flora: An Entangled Bank, Coldwater Lake
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10 thoughts on “Mystery Flora: An Entangled Bank, Coldwater Lake

  1. rq

    Mmm the purple one is either a beardtongue (Penstemon) of some kind, or an Impatiens species.
    The bright red one is Indian paintbrush of the Castilleja sort. Can’t speciate.

    The quotes you have chosen here actually reflect really well what I was trying to put together myself this weekend. Odd, that… :) I’ll have to re-read my Charles Darwin.

  2. 3

    In the first picture, to the right there is a white-looking flower facing away from the camera. Is that a milkweed of some sort? And is that bracken fern in the background?

    I agree with rq on the Indian paintbrush.

  3. 4

    I’ll second/third Penstemon and Castilleja. And I can’t quite make it out, but I think the cluster of white flowers Blueaussi pointed out is in the aster family.

  4. rq

    I think that white one is this, Anaphalis margaritacea. You can see it in a couple of the later pictures (spec., in IV, right behind the bunch of probable Penstemon). They’re in the grass in Photo III as well, if you look carefully. So yes, Aster family.
    We called them pussy-foot when I was growing up, because it resembles padded cats’ paws (with nails retracted). I don’t know if that’s a common common name for it.

  5. 6

    All part of the progress to the climax vegetation for the area which was likely what was there before the eruption. Now of course this takes much more than a human lifetime but nature is nothing if not patient. (She has lots of time) One can see this for example in the creek bottom where my grandfathers farm used to sit that were not stripped because the coal had been eroded away. After 40 years they are dense forests that must begin to resemble what the forest looked like 200 years ago. (This was in southern IN with about 50 inches of rain a year). Or go to the land between the lakes in Ky and look past the mowed areas and you see dense forest, when you know that 70 years ago farms sat in the area.
    So that while we humans might kill ourselves off nature will survive and new species arise, after all if it could survive the end of Cretaceous and Permian extinction events it will survive what we do to it, all be it it might be a vision of life after people.

  6. 7

    That final sentence quoted, “There is a grandeur in this view of life…” has been my selection for the most profound and heart-stoppingly beautiful thing I’ve ever read since I first saw it about 30 years ago.

  7. 9

    There is grandeur, too, in the concept that death brings life. Volcanic soils are some of the richest there are; that’s why people from very early on chose to live and farm on the flanks of volcanoes. Volcanoes destroy but they sow the ground for new life to thrive.

    Having said that, just the photos have me reaching for antihistamines. Lovely as the banks are, green stuff and I are not natural companions.

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