The Elephant’s Parade // Elephant Head Lousewort

We camped at Big River Meadow, in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. We were assigned to do a plant study; choose a plant to sit with and observe for 1 hour, create a name for it and a creative component and then come back and use the plant ID books to identify the specimen. 

I sat down with, what I named, THE ELEPHANT’S PARADE.

    • still flowering near the creak (Big River Meadow Creek)
    • growing out of wet moss and mud
    • flower buds have closed and seed buds beginning to develop in the marshy areas away from the creek, and more abundant in these areas, it seems
    • the specimen seems to prefer wet and sunny areas and is found with other plants that seem to like the same soil types. The other plants found alongside this one are all relatively the same height, besides the low lying mossy and marshy plants my specific specimen seem to spring up from.
    • found in the mountain meadow (6,000 ft)
    • I do not recognize this plant from the areas we have been, and does not seem to grow in the surrounding forested and shady areas or surrounding hills and mountains
    • hardy root system- when I pulled the root out, it wouldn’t come up easily
      • gnarly looking bulbous root system, white and black
      • leaves and stalk come directly out of bulbous root
      • 1 flower stalk and approx 15 fern like leaves
    • Leaf
      • purple around edges, rest green
      • serrated edges
      • fern-like
      • does not lay flat-whorled around stalk and alternating
    • Stem
      • ranging from 5” to 12” tall
      • uneven leaf growth, all the way up the stem, getting smaller and smaller as you go up the stem and leading into the flower buds then the flowers and then the seed heads
      • it seems that the younger plant has a redder stem and as the plant flowers and makes seeds the stem becomes more green
      • alternating buds and flowers
      • flower buds poke out of leave nodules (green and purple)
      • end of stem is tuberous- might be tasty for an ungulate to eat
    • Flower
      • light floral scent
      • looks like a purple elephant
      • shades of purple
    • needs an abundance of water
      • leaves aren’t grown in a way that concentrate water flow
    • needs lots of sunlight
      • leaves aren’t grown in a way to max sunlight so needs a lot of sun
      • the tuberous stalk and roots makes me think it is good to eat for ungulates
    • flowers allow for only specific pollinators (a certain type of bee)
    • bright purple attracts pollinators
    • bulb allows plant to overwinter (perennials)


So, I took my observations to the books and discovered my lovely little flower was a Elephant Head Lousewort (pedicularis groenlandica). This guy can become a weed in hay fields, and like I speculated it is eaten by ungulates, specifically elk. And a specific bee will pollinate the Elephant Head Lousewort. This flowering plant is a perennial, partially parasitic on the roots of other plants, grows in alpine meadows. The roots can be eaten in moderation, but only depending on its host. If the host is poisonous, then the ElephantHead can become poisonous too. If eaten the roots can be used as a sedative for children and a tranquilizer for adults, but it is not recommended to eat this plant. The Elephant Head Lousewort is part of the figwort family. Many figworts are ornamental, but not this one because of its parasitic tendency’s.  




Writing an essay while watching lightning background dancers

The clouds finally cleared above the lake, after intermittent thunderstorms had drenched our tents. I was huddled underneath the tarp with some of my fellow students. We were finishing our essays, and the time was just before midnight. I needed a break, so I walked 100ft to the edge of the black waters lapping against the shore. Clouds surrounded the high mountain peaks that dipped their toes into the shallow waters of the small snow-melt fed lake.

I turned my nose to the stars. They were bright and twinkling. A bright flash across the sky, a shooting star, burned in my vision. I yelled at the guys, finishing up their essays, to come check it out. Every 10-20seconds, fainter and brighter streaks blasted across the sky, and we remembered that while in the front country the store clerk informed us of the meteor shower occurring this week. All around the mountains that stood like sentinels around this lake gem, dark clouds lit up with flashes of lightning. Thunder rolled, and the contours of the large, ominous and black clouds would be briefly visible. We had a sweet view of the meteor shower, with the lightning background dancers, and the thunderous applause.

The prompt for the essay we were writing was, “What would a sustainable future look like?” Sunburst Lake fed me inspiration to write my essay, I pulled quotes and ideas from the readings we were given. Our instructors had given us a two-inch spiral bound “reader” at the beginning of the two week course. I lugged this thick binder of resources across streams, over logs, up and down mountains, through flowering meadows and finally to this beautiful lake.

Here are some excerpts from the essay written underneath a meteor shower, beside an alpine lake:

“Individuals’ choices and actions will define a foundation for a sustainable future. As individuals begin to realize the flaws that surround, and are braided through our consumer based culture, conscious actions will be made to cut our first-world carbon footprints. I believe that human innovation and creativity will lead the way towards localizing our economies. Through localizing our economies, individuals, young families, entrepreneurs and small business owners will be able to develop a relationship with the place they live. Through their pride of being part of a community that works together and towards a goal for the greater good, they will be called to action to support a global agreement about what the world should do about climate change. This will be a call for consistency in the people of the United States’ morals, and to extend the benefits of cutting carbon emissions to other peoples.

In the United States consumer based culture, where economic growth is prioritized, we as individuals are not happy. As concluded by Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy, economic growth leads to inequality and insecurity. The growth that has been fed by the American public since WWII has never stopped and hasn’t led to any necessarily significant increase in happiness. Although happiness may be considered irrelevant in the climate crisis, I think it is very relevant.
Happiness is relevant to a sustainable future. If individuals are going to make a significant effort to change their day to day lives to live a more sustainable life, happiness and satisfaction must be apparent. According to McKibben, 20% of Americans are flourishing and content, 25% are languishing and the rest are somewhere in between. Thus, I can conclude that the United States pursuit of growthmanship after WWII did succeed in making us wealthier, but we aren’t at all anymore happier. McKibben does say, “Up to a certain point, more really does equal better,” but the amount of riches we have accumulated have well surpassed the amount to maximize our happiness….

(Skipping some paragraphs about some stuff…)

…Society’s one hope for future and long lasting happiness is climate change. Climate change offers a challenge for people to look at their lifestyles, and to really gage how successful their pursuit at happiness is. It is well known the climate change is a man caused phenomenon. Consequently, our carbon-soaked-behaviors are what have led to altering the Earth so drastically that ecosystems are shifting, species are going extinct, sea-levels are rising and ice caps are melting. We are doing something totally wrong here, and our current method of pursuing happiness is drenched in carbon emissions and really not making us, as a society and as individuals, happy. So, as climate change threatens our hope at future and long lasting happiness, and climate change is man caused, we are forced to reevaluate our behavior and to make significant changes…

(Skipping to a section in the conclusion…)

….A sustainable future cannot come from anywhere but the heart. The American vision is the pursuit of happiness, and the continued happiness for future generations. If individuals begin to make conscious efforts to lower their carbon footprints, creativity will be sparked, because we will have to develop new ways of doing things. And as a result of people getting their creative juices flowing, they will begin to actualize their own potential, which will allow happiness to flourish.”

Saturday, June 28th (All aboard the ferry to Wrangell, AK with kayaks in tow)

We were tasked with interviewing another passenger aboard the vessel. I headed straight towards the old woman underneath the stairs with the bright yellow umbrella, blowing bubbles.

Her name was Carla, a Washington native. She told me she has lived a simple life. She told me how she has always surrounded herself with family, and this is key to fulfillment in life. She grew up with several brothers, raised two daughters, and one grandson. She was a nanny for twenty years and has seen many children grow into young adults.

As we look out on the ocean, she points to a humpback whale breaching on the horizon. We stare in wonder, and she remarks that the beautiful places she has lived have also been a huge contributing factor in her happy and simple life. I can only imagine what other beauties I will find in Alaska as I kayak around Wrangell Island. The mountains that surround either side of the ferry are coated with white, wispy clouds that hide the tops of cascading waterfalls from view and it is hard to imagine anything more beautiful than this.

Carla grew up in western Washington. Commenting on youth’s obsession with playing with cellphones and wasting the hours of the day on the computer, when she was young she’d be on the beach gooey-ducking and enjoying gooey-duck chowder with her brothers. Carla also spent most of her adult years in eastern Washington, right near where I grew up in Spokane. This was where Carla raised her daughters. Now she resides on the west coast, helping her daughter raise her son.

Carla was en route to Prince of Wales Island to see her brother. George, her brother, as she described him, is an old man, a poacher and a wino, who lives off the grid.

Words of wisdom spouted from Carla’s mouth and I drank them in like wine. She told me, simply, that people are most happy doing what they do best and what they love. Carla, in her youth and as an elder,  was born to be matron and loved rearing the young ones to be the best they can. George, on the other hand, was a master poacher, elite moon shiner, and has no criminal record.

We shook hands. As my cold and clammy hand met her warm and wrinkled hand, she remarked, “Cold hands mean a warm and kind heart.”