Lupine Dreams

Grand Tetons, Wyoming. Lupine and the Teton Range along the Gros Ventre.

There was one image that I had in mind, or actually in my dreams, when I returned to photograph spring in the tetons. I saw an image that brought together the beauty of the Teton range in the background with the beauty of an intense cluster of lupine flowers in the foreground. When I photographed the image above I knew that I was very close. By the time that I found this spot along the Gros Ventre River it was already mid morning and the direct light was too harsh to capture the colors that I wanted, but the location looked right to return another day in better light.

Grand Tetons, Wyoming.

Another morning along a creek to the north I photographed a different stand of lupine. At this location there were vast expanses of lupine, but the range was partially obscured by the tree line. I ended up concentrating on the lupine and the similar tones of the light reflected in the braided creek.

Grand Tetons, Wyoming. Lupine and the Teton Range along the Gros Ventre.

Finally on the last morning of the last day of my trip I was able to return to the lupine along the Gros Ventre and make the image above, which is exactly what I had in my mind. I actually made this image from an island. I had to get out before the sun rose in order to capture the first color against the peaks. This image will be used for the 2009 year at a glance calendar, which I hope will also help bring a little more attention to lupine and lupine communities in our area.

Lupine holds a special place in my thoughts that needs a little explaining. I'm trying to establish, or find, a reasonably large stand of lupine in my home area. There are a variety of species that are threatened and endangered in our area because of the rarity of lupine, including the Karner Blue butterfly. I would love to see an intact lupine community that fosters these rare and precious animals and gives them the chance to gain a better foothold. Each spring I wander looking for new stands of native lupine, checking on the ones that I'm aware of, and finding a home for a seed or two.

To understand the plight and role of lupine you first need to understand one of the primary processes in nature, succession. Succession is a concept in ecology that basically says disturbances in nature are followed by a succession of communities, with each community eventually preparing the way for the next community. "Disturbances" can have a variety of causes, everything from storms to lightening strikes, to fire, to the actions of a bulldozer.

One of the reasons that biodiversity is so important is that it means there is a bank of species that are waiting in the wings to help recover from disturbances. In a healthy environment there are enough species around that when a specific disturbance comes they are available to heal the environment from that problem. Individuals play roles within the community that change the environment of the community. Typically they help reestablish the soil making it possible for new individuals to grow, and then other communities might come in over time and help stabilize the soil so it doesn't get washed or blown away. The next community in time might provide more shade and cover for animals and actually help stabilize the weather in an area. There is a steady stream of communities over time with pioneering individuals that come in and help determine the future of a location.

Lupine are one of the first plants to resettle after the disturbance of a fire. They exist in rugged conditions with little soil and also little or no shade. If you look in the photos above you see that the lupine is in the open growing in rough gravel areas (not much soil). I now find wild lupine growing under power lines and right of ways through old forests where there is constant disturbance and not much growing overhead. Where we live fire was historically part of the natural landscape, and lupine helped recover from fires. But in recent history fires are greatly suppressed through the actions of people. That's led to a decline in the number of lupine plants, and the decline in the lupine has led to the near extinction of several animals.

But I think people are the solution here too. If we understand what is going on we can consciously change directions so that we are providing the conditions for lupine and the community that depends on them both in the wild and in our gardens. Look at the photos above. These are very beautiful plants that can enhance both the lives of the species that depend on them, and our lives as well. By growing lupine in our gardens and letting professionals do controlled burns we can help maintain the resources needed to keep a community alive. What an opportunity, the chance to add beauty to our lives and to foster an entire community!

There is another dimension to this... Succession as a metaphor is itself beautiful. We are all part of a community in space and time. In a healthy environment we all have a chance to provide an influence on our community. Right now we are preparing the way for the next community. As individuals we change the environment of our community, possibly providing the soil and stability for future individuals and communities to take root and grow, to encourage the beautiful individuals of the next generation that will form the next community. What an opportunity, the chance to add beauty to our lives and to foster an entire community!

Charles St. Charles