While the river noise relaxes me, it is the collecting of plants, particularly twinflowers that puts me in a high state of contentment.

I love the little pair of pink blooms that make up this boreal dweller twinflower. Connected by threadlike stolons, or runners, many twinflowers are joined together. And the mat of small green rounded leaves that cluster above the perennial runners are nearly as appealing to me as the flower.

When mats of these delicate flowers emerge, I can’t help but think of Carl Linnaeus, the charismatic Swede of the 18th century who not only was a grand promoter but he had the brainstorm of classifying flora and fauna, giving them a Latin title composed of a genus and species name. This tool, referred to as binomial nomenclature, offered a straightforward way that botanists around the world could understand.

Linnaeus assigned over 8,000 plants and animals with their scientific, or Latin, names. He named one, a favorite, after himself. That was twinflower or Linnea borealis. (Linnea “Linnaeus” and borealis “of the north”)

Some people might consider me greedy, not unlike the red squirrels that frequent these same forests.  The sassy rodent stashes pine and spruce cones for winter sustenance and I collect pressed twinflowers for creative sustenance. I always keep a stash of dried delicate botanical specimens on hand for making wedding, greeting, or birthday cards. I am also partial to small burr oak leaves and the intense blue of alpine forget-me-nots.

However, I am ethical in my collecting. I never take many flowers or leaves from one spot. And if I find only one or even a handful, I will pass them up and wish them well for healthy propagation.

Less than 10 minutes from the Outpost there is an old aboriginal trail that I sometimes hike or pedal with my mountain bike. There is a piece of fairly open forest, composed of lodgepole pine and spruce. There is very little understory here. Hugging the ground are lovely patches of ashen and green-hued lichens interspersed with abundant lingonberries that will warrant my attention in a little over a month when we take to the woods, pails in hand to garner the scarlet, tart fruits.

Most Yukoners and Alaskans call these circumpolar treats “cranberries.” So desirable are these treasure that the local organic bakery will pay pickers $15 per pound to enhance muffins and breads.

But today it is the mats of twinflower and bastard toadflax that hold my attention. You might wonder how something so delicate and freshly pink can keep company with the likes of a plant called “bastard toadflax.”

Surely, the proper Sir Linnaeus frowned at such a degrading common name. So he ignored the back alley name and gave it a more graceful scientific name; Comandra umbellata. Why such a title is fun to sing out! Comandra umbellate! Co. .MAN. .dra   umbel. .LATA!!

Maybe it gets the common name “bastard” because it is a semi-parasitic plant and it is able to absorb water and nutrients from the roots of neighboring plants. Simply put it robs; consequently it must be a bastard. There is no lilting song when you hiss “bastard toadflax!”

Both twinflower and bastard toadflax spread through seeds and vegetatively or through thier roots. A single clone of each species can cover a wide area and flourish for years.

I leaned my “two-wheeled “bush pony” against a pine and carefully sat on the ground so as to minimize flattening any twinflowers. And I began to excise flowers from the hordes. At one point I lay my head on the ground to get the perspective of the red squirrel that was clearly and loudly upset with my presence.  Each twinflower’s threadlike stem is “y-shaped.” From each branch of the “y” dangles a small pink flower that looks like a tiny tapered Victorian lampshade.  I was spellbound peering through the wee forest of tiny pink delicacies.

After a half hour of moving from patch to patch of twinflower, I carefully filled each of my blotter pages in my small plant press with tiny flowers. I carefully packed the press into my daypack next to the bear spray, retrieved my bike.

As I pedaled through the pines and spruce, towards home, I noticed multitudes of twinflower blooms flanking the old trail. It seemed that in my collecting them I was now super aware of their ubiquitous presence.  It was as if I was a two-wheeled float in a parade and the unlikely partners, the pink and bastard bystanders were mutely at attention as I passed. While in the background from beneath the pines was the pregnant pause of ripening cranberries and the unseen scolding of a territorial red squirrel.





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