Marsh Marigolds

Several years ago in early summer a friend and I backpacked eastward over the Sierra Crest from the northern Yosemite Park backcountry. Just over 10,200 foot Summit Pass we came to a tiny stream melting from a snowbank. Tender new grass was sprouting around the stream as it spread out across the the trail, less than an inch deep. Sprouting among the grass, and even growing in the shallow stream, were small white flowers with yellow centers, each on its own short stalk. Their simple form and their presence in the gently flowing water seemed primitive, primordial. It seemed to me that I could have seen this scene when grass and flowers were just appearing on earth.

Later I keyed out the flower from a natural history book as marsh marigold. Here’s what I wrote about it later:

For me, the marsh marigold is a special flower. It reeks of newness and creation.  It grows in the high Sierra at and above treeline, in early summer when streams are rushing with snowmelt and the new grass is fresh green and tender.

It seems to spring directly from the elements of creation. It’s nourished by pure water fresh-melted from a nearby snowbank. It  roots in fine soil, the product of the grinding of local rock by glaciers and streams: the original stuff of the earth.   It does not grow merely beside the streams. It does not wait for them to go down and leave the earth damp behind. No, without waiting it often grows right up through the flowing water, in too much of a hurry, too bursting with the exhuberance of life, to wait.

Many other flowers are complex, with many petals and stems of various shapes, colors, and functions. The marsh marigold, in contrast, is simple and direct, with a few pure white petal-like sepals cradling yellow stamens and anthers. Each flower is at the top of its own bare stalk two to eight inches above the basal clump of leaves.   The bursting forth of the marsh marigold in the midst of new-born meltwater, springing from the young mountain soil, shouts to me of new creation going on right in front of me NOW and of the force of exhuberant life bursting forth again and again.

What are your favorite mountain wildflowers? How do they affect you? Join the conversation.


About David McCoard

After earning my MS in geology I've done various things including managing the ski touring program at a small lodge in the Sierra. In 2010 I retired from Contra Costa College in California. I've always been fascinated by the mountains and nature and have spent countless days hiking, backpacking, climbing and skiing in the Sierra. The spiritual insights I've learned there have set the course for my life. Now I have time to share them and strike up a conversation.
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