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Grass Widows -- Photo  Chris Carvalho/Lensjoy.com



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Late each winter in the Columbia Gorge, a very special event happens.  The dull, dreary weather starts to moderate just a bit, bringing some broken clouds and brief glimpses of blue sky and sunshine.  Suddenly, the first few flowers of a tiny plant called the Grass Widow (Olsynium douglasii) start to appear on the dry, windswept bluffs overlooking the river.  Just a week or two after the first ones appear, thousands blanket the ground in some areas.  Their cheery color starts to brighten the landscape and my spirits as they announce the approach of spring.  I know that glorious days of hiking in flower-filled meadows are upon us.  These are one of the earliest species to bloom, usually starting in the middle of February.  

The flowers are only about an inch across, and the plant is seldom more than six inches tall.  They are a wonder to behold and are best appreciated on one's knees.  These were photographed in the soft light of early evening and the petals have a satiny sheen to them that's almost iridescent.  The picture is beautifully detailed, and even the small hairs at the tip of the flower's pistil are visible.  

If you come upon a large drift of grass widows on a hike, look carefully and you might see a rare white version of this flower.  The origin of the flower's name is not well understood; there are two possibilities.  According to the British language expert Michael Quinion, one comes from historic use of the term "grass widow" to mean "an abandoned mistress or unmarried woman who had cohabited with several men."  Perhaps these flowers symbolized the region's first settlers enjoying a moment of romantic impropriety in the gorge's lush fields.  Another use refers to British colonists in India, whose wives often lived in hill stations in cool and green parts of the country, while their husbands worked in drier lowlands.  Given that early explorers of Oregon and Washington were known for the occasional tryst with Native American women, perhaps the two definitions were combined, confusing the American Indian with the country of India.  


Info:  Chromira digital print of Provia 100F 645 chrome, Fuji Crystal Archive CD paper

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