Plateau Catchfly

By Hanna Johnson

In the morning we awoke to the songs of
Thrushes and warblers, and a melody from the nearby creek as it stumbled over smooth rocks. 
We sipped on bitter coffee from specked, blue, 
enamel mugs before leaving camp. That day we 
searched for the Heliotrope Milkvetch, 
rare and small, it’s large salmon pods and pinnate leaves
are only found on the crests of Heliotrope mountain. 

I clambered over fallen logs, avoided large boulders,
and wove my way around tributaries that 
meandered in aspen groves. These tiny creeks had carved 
small, green canyons in the bed of fescues and wheat.
When my boots–dark at the toes from stepping in streams–
reached the final step up, I found 
that the ridgeline was flat, not a peak,  
but a plateau. Like deep red waves 
the small blooms of fat leafed sedums, 
and dark purple penstemons
broke on the edges of stone. 
My feet scampered around the edge of cliffs
Looking out at the surrounding flat topped mountains 
Whose sloping bases slid into a landscape 
Dotted with small lakes and coated in firs.

As we made our way to the rocky site 
Where bolts marked the presence of our milkvetch
I encountered a ruby red flower. Silky hairs covered a 
Terminal inflorescence, and a narrow bell shaped calyx.
Dark purples ribs ran down the bell and reminded 
Me of delicate lattice work on chapel walls.
The pink petals spread their lobed fingers
As if to extend warmth and welcome to bees and butterflies.

I can’t remember what Heliotrope milkvetch looks like
I don’t have any photos. But silent silene, 
the plateau catchfly, who is rare but not endangered 
keeps her own perfect image in my head.


Hannah Johnson is a botanist working in the red rock vistas and plateaus of Southern Utah. The landscape surrounding her is infectious and filled with awe. Much of her work is inspired by the landscapes and plants she encounters while working and playing among the rocks and flowers.

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