Spring comes to Central Oregon a bit later than other parts of the state. Our elevation and easterly location in the rain shadow of the Cascade Range means we’re colder and drier for longer than other Oregon regions.
In March or April, when fruit trees are going bonkers with flowers and tulips have already been hanging around for weeks in the Willamette Valley, we’re still dodging snow flakes over here in Bend. May and June often bring simply more of the same. Around these parts, we’ve learned not to put away the fleece until July—and even then, keep it handy, because you never know.
While our trees do eventually bloom, and tulips and daffodils too bless us with their presence, in the sixteen years I’ve lived in Bend I’ve come to treat only one flower as the first sign that winter might truly be working towards its end. The sand lily—a small, delicate flower that puts ‘shrinking violets’ to shame.
The sand lily perfects mysterious, only appearing mid-to-late-spring after a few good days of warmth and sunshine, making random, secretive appearances for several weeks, and then vanishing completely for another year. Sand lilies don’t grow in front yards—they like battered trails, stretches of old wildfire-scarred land,steep dusty slopes. The leaves look like grass—until the flower emerge one expects nothing. They are small, each plant maybe the size of a salad plate, each flower fragile and white and soft as a puddle of melting vanilla ice cream.
I believe that most people, even in Central Oregon, don’t even know sand lilies exist. I myself am a bit dorky in love with them, always pausing to greet the plant aloud upon first appearance. I’ve even been known to address the flowers with terms of endearment. The most elusive wild flower deserves to be called darling, don’t you think? It’s the least I can do for the pleasure sand lilies bring to me, the secret feeling I carry that I am the only one to see them, the hope they bring that long warm days will again return to our weather-weary town.
I spotted this year’s early crop last week, after that wacky-warm weekend we had when temperatures reached the low 80s. It had been raining before that, and conditions were perfect for those little lovelies to come out and meet the world. And there they were. Where, you ask? I’ll tell you, but only if you promise to love them like I do for the duration of their brief, stately appearance each spring.