Some are fair weather fans. Some are not. You learn this through experience. Recent meanderings upon familiar paths relatively high on the east bench near the University of Utah prove the thesis. This time of year, you can have Red Butte Garden and its attendant solitude to yourself most any day.
The attraction of the place appears to be directly proportional to temperature. There is actually little surprise to this state of affairs, in that communing with flora when it is under a blanket of snow or pretty much shut down due to botanical imperatives involves at least a minimal level of effort. You’ve got to want to make contact.
Other considerations come into play, of course — but allure looms large. You remember why you became captivated in the first place, how the overall enchantment stuck to your ribs — the pull, the fascination, the magnetism. A garden of delights beckoned, and you succumbed to its wiles.
Recognizing the beauty without has its own rewards, to be sure. This is biology’s way of holding your interest until the glories within become evident. And evident they are, as recent wanderings and ponderings have brought to light. Even when cloaked in winter, gardens have a way of recharging themselves and those upon their paths.
As with most species within these friendly confines, the magnolias are receiving mixed messages. They bought in to that bag of goods that calls itself springtime only to have ice suspended from buds the following day. And then there are these quite quizzical and seemingly weightless spheres hanging from the sycamores.
They’re trying, no doubt about that. They are reaching out, trying their best to touch bases, but in the dark of the season, that which is in their hearts can only be interpreted through intuition. Although there is obvious warmth upon the inner landscape, patient cultivation is required in order to experience the bloom.
Down in the four-seasons garden, a few seed heads accent the dried grasses and snow patches while now-dormant hawthornes and crabapples wait in the wings. Not much going on in the herb and medicinal gardens either, except for an overwhelming sense of peace and harmony and oneness.
Every so often, a relatively soft gaggle of disembodied human voices will interrupt the silence but they are seldom louder than those of the drake or mallard or goose or gander down below in the watershed. In fact, on this day, due probably to covert mannerisms remaining very much in place, acceptance into the aquatic fauna family seemed a given.
They saw no threat or reason to engage their always-at-the-ready defensive posturing. Not unlike the Rocky Mountain goats at Emerald Lake on Timpanogos this past summer, the honkers allowed access into their regal community. One even began to peck at your boots before losing interest and wandering off between your legs.
The waterfalls, though not as roaring as they will become during peak Red Butte Canyon runoff, are perfect in their subtlety. Flaunting their shtick will come later. As will, evidently, the long-rumored re-construction of the current amphitheater setting at the northwestern-most end of the garden.
They say they are going to move dirt and change the concertgoer comfort zone. Maybe they wait for snow to melt and mud to harden. So far, no yellow iron machines, champin’ at the bit to scoop and push and grade, are in evidence. No hurries. No worries. In a minute there is time for decisions and revisions, which a minute will reverse. T. S. Eliot said that. And, if memory serves, he scooped a bit of dirt in his day.
Red Butte has long offered the somewhat full-contact sport of "tree-hugging," or "conferring with conifers," as they refer to it in these parts. Excellent specimens abound. You have your blue spruce and ponderosa pine, of course, not to mention a couple of old friends, the Himalayan pines.
And it’s always thrilling to see bristlecone, and not just for their highly esoteric and form-fitting needles. Having something around that is both alive and older than you is also life affirming. And, somewhat ironically, two of the more modest giant sequoias call this place home.
The conifer garden also holds a couple of, as yet, unidentified beauties with a most eccentric needle configuration, texture and color. In the sense that naming things can be both instructive and fun, henceforth the yellowish buggers shall be known as "amarillo pines." Until something more authentic comes along, that is.
While in the neighborhood, moseyin’ over to spend time with the finely sculpted moose family is also a no-brainer. They are long time friends during the summer concert season and, for the most part, seem to be weathering the winter well. There’s something about the patina of "lost-wax" bronze that infers the passage of time.
Back up on the return trail, pinyon and Australian pine hang out with "weeping white spruce," "weeping Douglas fir," and a Japanese pagoda tree. Soon this section will be set off by the now sleeping cliffrose and Apache plume — and, if the vibe gets any more serene, a soon-to-be-napping wallflower.
And lest they be forgotten, the wonderful scents of the fragrance garden are quite often "best in show" at Red Butte. Currently, however, with the lilac, mock orange and lavender taking the winter off, it’s pretty much a BYO-fragrance type of environment.
And on this day, with thoughts of reconnection and resolution tracing paths taken previously, the thought of firing-up a moderately-sized, aged-maduro cigar in the very-much-empty fragrance garden, had a certain poetic ring to it. One would think that winter rules would obviously include a bring-your-own "bouquet" clause. Such are the rewards of reaching out — of keeping in touch with your botanical side. Late bloomers need love, too.
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In the wake of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, PJ Falten has been thinking about the “fallen heroes who gave their lives so that something like last Wednesday could never happen on sacred ground. … What would they have thought?”