Natural Passions

From rock hunting to flower chasing, rambling walks encourage communing with nature

Photo Jun 28 7 31 41 AM
Photo by Linda Tucker.

“It started with an orchid,” says Linda Tucker of Medford. She became a convert to flower hunting after chasing a special bloom to Ashland and the Pacific Coast Trail.

“I’ve always been a hiker, but one time I was out walking with a friend who would stop and photograph the flowers,” Tucker explains. “She would later look them up and identify them. I got curious, so I joined an Oregon wildflowers Facebook group and saw a post about a wild orchid blooming in Ashland. After finding that orchid, I became more intentional about planning hikes to find flowers.”

Tucker also found other friends willing to pursue blooms throughout the region, and now flower hunting is a set date every Monday, rain or shine.

“We tend to try to go somewhere new each week,” she says. “We love backroads, and sometimes we find unexpected things. When bloom season is over, we look for what else there is to see, including lichens, mosses and ferns. Or we’ll take coastal trips to search for agates. We always take great snacks and have a picnic wherever we go.”

Pepper Trail, the senior ornithologist at the National Fish and Wildlife Forensic Laboratory in Ashland, is a professional when it comes to nature, since his unusual job is as a criminal forensic ornithologist (see sidebar). However, he still spends as many Saturdays as he can rambling Southern Oregon.

“The great thing about living in Southern Oregon is that there are areas that are easily accessible, and wildflowers bloom most of the year except for the dead of winter,” he says. “By starting in the valleys and moving up the mountains as summer arrives, you can find flowers for months. I usually go out by myself because I don’t get far—I’m stopping often to study things I see.”

Trail is interested in all things natural, so he isn’t usually looking for a single bird, flower or tree, but lately he’s been keeping an eye out for a Franklin’s bumblebee, a critically endangered species last sighted on Mount Ashland in 2006.

Unlike walks or hikes with a destination, Tucker and Trail use these rambles to literally stop and sniff the flowers.

“For me, it’s important for my mental health to immerse myself in nature to gain respite from everyday concerns,” Trail says. “It’s not goal-oriented walking, it’s just a replenishment of the spirit.”

Tucker agrees, though she often has a goal to find a certain flower or lichen, whether she finds it or not isn’t as important as dedicating time for the effort.

“As a pastor, I sometimes feel like I have a great emotional load to carry,” she says. “When I go out in the woods sometimes, I will find a place where I’m alone and say, ‘I’m hurting’ out loud, and it releases my worries and replenishes me with peace and calm.”

For those interested in becoming amateur naturalists, there are many ways to find assistance. Tucker finds tips and fellow enthusiasts through online community groups via Facebook and apps that assist in identification. Trail recommends taking along a field guide, starting with common trees, flowers or birds. Trail has led guided walks and field trips in the past, and points to the local chapters of the Audubon Society and Native Plant Society and the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy as good starting places.

Some of the special-to-the-region sights that might tempt you off the couch include the blue-gray gnatcatcher, California towhee and great gray owl among birds, and the 6-foot tall Washington lily among flowers. April is a great month for wildflowers at the top of the Table Rocks and the back of Mount Ashland, Tucker says.

“When I started, I was accustomed to the usual hikes at Roxy Ann or the Table Rocks, but I would never have gone to the variety of places I have without this network of people interested in finding something more than just going for a hike. I’ve learned so much about the impact of weather, altitude and soil. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned from flowers.”

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More to Explore

What is a criminal forensic ornithologist?

Pepper Trail is a detective who solves crimes in a wildlife version of CSI. He works at the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland. He is one of only two criminal forensic ornithologists in the country, using feathers, bones, and other remains to identify birds that are the victims of wildlife crime. Why would this matter? Many birds have protected status under federal law, so their deaths, or trade in their feathers, may prompt investigation. Some birds are victims of illegal trafficking or of other manmade problems, such as oil spills or pesticides.

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