In the Beartooth foothills, 50 shades of green

The author, a bit earlier this year.

Back in May, I suggested to Ed Kemmick a photo essay on winter hikes because I did them every day — in squalls, sleet, freezing storms — in the foothills of the Beartooths where I live. It was to be a frigid reminder now of the season change, something to recall when blistering summer came on.

But who needs a record of creeks icing over, tree trunks imbedded with snow, the silence, even the absence of most bird sound, and of a septuagenarian behaving as some kind of Shackelton? When the cold talons of winter grab us sometime in October is soon enough to review the year before.

Instead, this: With some color interruptions of the most vivid display of wildflowers we’ve ever seen in the foothills of the Beartooths near Fiddler Creek, this essay with photos focuses on the main topic of the day: the Green Spring.

HUMMINGBIRD RANCH, SOUTH FIDDLER CREEK — I grew up in Ohio loving green.

Green was the color of my mom’s eyes, which I described in writing, at age 6, as the “prettiest eyes on my 6-foot mom.” (She was 5-foot-5 but seemed taller to me.)

My bike was green. Green was the color of my baseball team’s uniforms in Kent, Ohio, sponsored by the city’s florists. How many kids can say they pitched for the Green Thumbs?

Green was the color Bob Cousey wore for the Boston Celtics, my favorite team.

Green was the color of Kent, Ohio, the Tree City, where, in the spring, my predawn paper route wound under a leafy tent of birch, oak, maple, elm, hickory, buckeye and even the occasional gingko.

Green seemed always a color of life and beginnings, of possibility and promise. I doubt anyone could love green any more than I.

No wonder, then, that this spring in Montana, after a long white, silent winter, would be so welcome. You can feel, see, hear and taste green. Grass synchronized with the wind. Flowing grass, undulating like sea waves. Deep indentations where deer bed down. (A romantic at heart, I imagine them gazing with the same wonderment the French poet Rimbaud experienced when he wrote “The eternal silence of infinite space stupefies me.”) Grass whistling and whispering. Green camouflaging hummingbirds in the pines.

Where I live, in the foothills of the Beartooths, and where I hike five miles nearly every day, I like how one person described this verdant spring: Green on green on green.

Another neighbor said it simpler: Greener than green.

“It’s the greenest I’ve ever seen, from the fields all the way to the top of the hills,” a 90-year-old ranch woman said.

There is a rhyme in tea green, sea green and every green in between.


Dan Burkhart

A never-abandoned county road dips through shade and over the hills to the old Bedford School.

Of course, you could ask, as my wife did, that the different shades of green be named in this essay, giving a broader pigmentary perspective, from fern to forest green. She rattles some off: hunter, lime, chartreuse, jade, olive, sage and moss. That’s more laborious and verbose than I want.

Paint peddlers concoct new green names every year — misty mint green, parakeet green — and the Sherwin Williams palette never ceases to toss up new greens. Just beginning with “A,” there’s avocado, asparagus, apple … you get the idea … all the way to “Z” and a shade called zephyr green, which must be a gentle breeze you can see.

A scientist might say the best word for green is chlorophyll, which takes in all the green pigments.

So one might say chlorophyll is at work to make horse coats gleam from the fresh grass, as they graze up to their withers, shedding their winter shag. But chlorophyll doesn’t seem the right word when describing elk grazing in lush hidden meadows or cows basking in the sun-drenched green pastures while their calves, born in subzero temperatures and surviving by cuddling down in hay mounds, gambol in grass above their heads.

Besides, green also has a sound. Creeks sing, rivers rush. Birdsong creates a day-long symphony. The hum of bees seems green.

Yes, the scientists say, and I believe them, that we should grow accustomed to wetter, greener springs. Later, longer, hotter, fiery summers, we can expect as well.

There are those who really don’t like green — the dark money green in politics for those who only care about dollar bill green and would rather make those dollars than save green. Blame them for ignoring the scientists.

Fifty shades of green, I suggested to Ed Kemmick of Last Best News, might warrant a photo essay.

The greenest spring I’ve ever seen, someone said. I thought that should be a song lyric.

But, for now, simply green.

I am certainly not alone in loving this long spring green.

This spring, the theme, the hymn, the lyrics, all begin with green.

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