THE FLOWER FIELDS OF GLACIER NATIONAL PARK.
RUSKIN says, "The best image which the world can give of Paradise is in the slope of the meadows, on the sides of a great Alp, with its purple rocks and eternal snows above; this excellence not being in any wise referable to feeling or individual preferences, but demonstrable by calm enumeration of the number of lovely colours on the rocks, the varied grouping of the trees, and quantity of noble incidents in stream, crag, or cloud, presented to the eye at any given moment."
The great shining peaks of Glacier National Park are guardians of an enchanted land in which the vivid colour and matchless beauty of Alpine vegetation challenge every traveller's attention and stamp themselves on the mind as deeply as the great glaciers clinging to the towering cliffs, the sapphire lakes, or the dark ridges of the sombre, fragrant pines.
It is a mistake to feel that ours must be the knowledge of gardeners or botanists in order to enjoy these wondrous flower field's. The delight of standing knee-deep in the fragrance of countless flowers is felt more deeply by the flower-lover or lover of floral beauty than by the plant specialist. No particular knowledge of genera and species of plant life is needed to enjoy the beauty of sunlit mountain meadow, tossed and rolling like a rainbow sea of purples, blues, mauves, pinks, reds, and yellows, with endless tints and shades, "where gay and blithely sporting butterflies seem flowers come to life."
The short grass jewelled with mountain saxifrage and other Alpine flowers; slopes of green fading and disappearing as under an azure veil; entire fields of wayward harebells shimmering and rustling like a silken surface; fragrant woods bordered with blue-purple of wild hyacinths; acres of coarse grass all aglow with buttercups; smiling valleys bestrewn with bells whose fragrance fills the air; a trail winding through a warm carpet of heath and heather; or a hill-side thickly grown with wild roses, dropping scented petals, all appeal to one in general more than in particular.
What is Alpine flora? In a word it denotes the plants that grow on all high mountain ranges.
Such flora ascends from the cultivated plain to upper mountain meadow and margin of glacial fields of high mountain tops. It embraces almost every species of vegetation of northern and temperate zones. Some Alpine flower life lies dormant under the deep snow shroud of threefourths of the year, at which heights there is barely time for the plants to bloom and ripen before they are again buried under the snow. Many plants, however, that grow high up where the snow-crowned mountains rule, are not confined to such inaccessible spots. We find them also in lower elevations where the sun's rays have power to lay bare in spring the vast meadows of rich grass set with countless flowers that spring up directly as the snow recedes.
For instance, the far-famed flower of heavenreflected blue, the blue gentian, blooms abundantly in spring in the lower flower-fields, while vast regions of the same kind are embedded deep by the cold snow on the slope of some high peak for months afterwards.
Alpine flora, like Arctic vegetation, must adapt itself to the shortened seasons. A poet has truly said of the fleeting floral affects on Alpine heights:
"This is the hour, the day,
The time, the season sweet.
Quick! hasten, laggard feet,
Brook not delay."
With breathless speed May's glories leave; the beauties of June pass all too quickly; and with blooms of July it is equally true. Eagerly Nature responds when Flora touches the Alpine fields with her fairy wand; for by the side of an emerald sea of verdure set with islands of buttercups, gentians, or marigolds, are deep banks of frozen snow under which some flowers are still sleeping.
Mountain flora is remarkably representative and wonderfully rich. It matters not where we walk or where we look, we always see some new and lovely combination of colours, tints, and shades.
Glacier National Park is truly a vast flower garden in which flowers of wondrous hues and infinite variety carpet the earth with loveliness for a few weeks in summer wherever the soil is bared of snow by the sun. There are, however, certain regions that are especially notable for the luxuriance and diversities of form and colours of flowers and other plant life, viz., the open fields and swelling foothills around Glacier Park Hotel; the route of the Automobile Highway; the lovely Alpine uplands of Granite Park; the high mountain meadows of Piegan Pass; the banks of Canyon Creek between Altyn and Allen Mts.; the green ridges and slopes of Cracker Lake and Grinnell Lake.
Not less than sixty varieties of flowers are native to the Park, while numberless genera resemble the flowers and plants of the Alps and other mountain regions. Fringing the vast, cold fields of snow and ice of the highest mountains, or peeping from crevices of high rocky places are ferns, fungi, creeping juniper, anemones, dwarfed chickweed, speedwell, mountain saxifrage, stonecrops, and Alpine androsaces. On lower levels the snow, in retiring to the heights, gives place to a carpet of soft verdure flecked with heather, heath, violets, larkspur, veronicas, globeflower, and daisies. In upland meadow are clover fields, pink, cream, red, or white, forming an admirable setting for many of the taller flowers like yellow lilies, arnicas, or gaillardia. Down deep in the soft grass of water meadows are scattered in endless thousands daffodils, crocuses, anemones, buttercups, and gentians; and everywhere in the verdant valleys are dense bright masses of painted cup and paint brush, vetches, columbines, harebells, forget-menots, wild heliotrope and violets. In the odorous woods, where the sunlight filters through interlacing branches, the lady's slipper and clematis hold us with their color.