Gordon Meadows Misadventures

A meandering creek runs through all the wet meadows.

Not every day of botanizing goes smoothly and leads to great finds and wonderful photos. In the interest of a balanced representation of my pursuit of botanical knowledge, I thought I would include a report about my less than successful day at Gordon Meadows yesterday (August 5). Gordon Meadows is a fabulous wetland area east of Sweet Home. I’d been there a number of times, and, sometimes along with friends Sabine Dutoit and John Koenig, had discovered a number of exciting plants, including the first recorded spot for Montia chamissoi in Linn County and a few plants of the rare Corallorhiza trifida. There are many other uncommon plants here as well. My previous trips had all been in June and July when it is very colorful or in September for scouting trips. I’d never seen it in August and hoped there would be something I’d missed before.

I was surprised to see a garter snake in the woods—he was surprised to see me, too.

In September, the meadows are dried out, but in June and July, rubber boots are a necessity to do more than look along the edges of the wetlands. I wasn’t sure how dry they would be in early August, so I decided to bring my boots but not wear them. That was the first of several mistakes I made. There were still fading bracts on the masses of bunchberry (Cornus unalaschkensis), but the only showy flower coming on in the damp woods was Boykinia major. This proved to be its peak bloom, and it showed up in many places where it was moist and fairly shady. At the intersection of the main trail, I headed first to the west. I actually found two additions to the list growing right in the moist dirt of the trail. Both Stellaria obtusa and Sagina saginoides have very tiny flowers and these small patches would have been easy to miss on past trips. The latter may be more common than I think (for a photo, see Visiting with Whetstone Mountain’s Pikas). I keep finding it now that I recognize it but have probably walked right over it many times on many trails in the past.

The jewel-like egg of a meadow fritillary

When I came to an opening along the trail that is a good place to access the largest of the patchy western meadows, I discovered that earlier in the day, I had inadvertently erased all the waypoints off my GPS instead of my old track information. Sometimes touchscreens can be finicky, and I didn’t realize my finger had slipped a little. This is not as huge a setback as it could have been as I had backed it up several weeks before, but it was still pretty upsetting. I was also rather disappointed that there were hardly any butterflies out. I saw less than a dozen all day. I did get to see a meadow (aka Pacific) fritillary lay an egg. She placed it on the underside of a Hieracium albiflorum just above some violets, the caterpillar host plant. I guess it was close enough for the caterpillar to find the violets. A little later, I was stopped by a very strange sight. Something small and yellow went flying horizontally across the wetland. I couldn’t think what insect was all pale yellow like that, and it didn’t fly like a bee or wasp. I followed it as it landed another 15 feet away. It was a spider! It must have been just sailing on the wind. The main flowers in this area were the long-blooming Microseris borealis. Half were blooming well, the other half already had ripe seed. Some Spiraea douglasii and fading Platanthera stricta were the only other colorful plants. The odd garnet-colored flowers of great burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis) were just opening as were several ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana).

The leaves of Oxalis trilliifolia fold up in the sun.

Next I headed to the far east end of the meadow complex. I had been collecting a few pieces of grasses and sedges in hopes of identifying them since there is a good list from a survey done several years ago. As I left the west end, I realized my bag was gone. Losing the samples was not a big deal, but I hate the fact that I inadvertently littered. I reached the end of the main meadow. Oxalis trilliifolia, the less common, moisture-loving species in our area, was blooming nicely in the creek between the meadows. The sun was just hitting it, and I tried to watch the leaves fold up imperceptibly. Nothing new or of particular interest was out in the east meadow, so I went up through the woods to check on an opening I’d seen in Google Earth. It was easy to find, but rather than a meadow as I’d expected, it was a small cliff area with a talus slope largely covered with a jungle of vine maple and devil’s club. Nothing on the rocks but a few ocean spray. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained as they say. Just not my lucky day.

Back to the main meadow, I decided to head across farther east than I usually do and put my boots on for what is usually the wettest part of the meadows. Halfway across, pushing my way through the shoulder high sedges, I was seriously regretting this. It must be the worst time of year to plow through a sedge wetland. Earlier the plants are shorter; later they start flopping over. I wished some giant bird would lift me out of there. I couldn’t see where I was walking and stepped into a small channel. This was the first time all day I was happy I had my boots as it was only about 8″ deep. I went slower from here on out, stepping gingerly to avoid falling into another channel. Suddenly I was standing up to my thighs in water. I have no idea how both feet went down at the same time. I scrambled out of this narrow but deep channel as fast as possible and immediately went for the side pocket on my pants which had gotten completely submerged. Miraculously, my GPS inside was barely damp. Soaking that would have been a huge disaster. As it was, I didn’t get hurt and didn’t wreck any of my equipment, and I got onto dry land pretty soon afterward. The whole crossing had only taken 20 minutes, but it seemed like an hour. I poured the water out of my boots (lot of help they turned out to be) and squeezed out my socks. You might think I’d swear never to do that again, but that would be futile. The same thing happened last year at Pigeon Prairie, and I didn’t learn my lesson then either. It did put a damper on my desire to keep botanizing, however, so I headed back fairly soon after relocating the rare Lycopodiella inundata and uncommon Trientalis arctica that grow in the boggy area with the sundews. Luckily, I was almost done anyway. And hey, there were never any mosquitoes, even then at the end of the day. Something to be thankful for.

One Response to “Gordon Meadows Misadventures”

  • John Koenig:

    Despite its challenges on your latest trip, the Gordon meadows complex are quite lovely and rank among my favorites. Your “meandering creek” photo really captures the “feel” of the meadow quite well. Thanks for a great report!

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