Fields of Poppies
On the weekend of March 24th, I took a trip to see the poppies. I attempted to go last year but went too late in their season so while we had a lovely picnic in the hills, had very Elizabeth Bennet moments atop the grassy hills swirling in gusts of wind, and grew very excited at the site of the lone poppy; this year I was determined to go during their height. California has experienced a superbloom this month due to our unheard of rainfall this winter. I loved all the rain, but am perhaps in the minority there. The thing about California winters is that they tend to be mild and short, often returning to high temperatures after January, but this year we’ve had months of cool weather in addition to the tons of rain. Stepping outside this morning it actually felt like spring. Flowers that haven't been seen for years are sprouting up in the desert and everyone is flocking to see to catch them before they disappear. Little did I know that everyone else had the same idea to go this particular Sunday as me.
The traffic jams to get into Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve didn't bother me as the hillsides all around glowed orange. The first view of the poppy filled fields filled me with such joy that I turned down Stephen Fry's voice reading Philosopher's Stone to exclaim how beautiful the flowers looked today. Forty-five minutes later, with backpack, picnic, and camera in hand, I set off in search of the distant orange fields. I chose the path with its winding hills, instead of the steep incline close to the parking lot, as I was determined to reach those fields and knew it was just a short walk around the bend.
The land changed as I walked along the pathway. What started off as a grassy landscape with wisps that blew in the ever-increasing wind slowly began to feature single poppies hidden beneath the grass. The green and brown grass transformed into fields of orange, yellow, and purple. The vibrancy and variation of tone was like nothing I'd ever seen before. The further I looked the more flowers I saw and the colors changed as the sun and clouds moved across the sky. It was then that I thought, "I wish I were a painter." Paint seemed like the medium required to capture the essence of these fields and the way in which they moved. I've had this thought many times before when faced with a landscape or moment similar to this one, so maybe it's time I picked up my watercolors again and practiced, instead of having them locked away in the closet. Though as much as I’ve tried, nothing can quite capture the vibrancy and wow factor of the poppies in person. I thought I knew what to expect based on pictures I had seen, but it was like the earth glowed, the flowers holding the warmth of the sun, projecting this golden light onto all who passed. The poppies appeared so delicate, yet they could withstand the wind and the feet of my fellow passersby.
The further and further I walked, the more the path wound, and the fewer people I met along the way. As I waited in traffic to enter the poppy reserve there was an endless line of cars and people perched on the side of the road: standing, sitting, or lying down among the flowers, attempting to get the best picture. Now as I stood among the fields, so far down the pathway I could no longer see the parking lot, it seemed like we were in separate worlds. The only voices I heard were the ones directly next to me, as the wind was deafening. The words to “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast kept playing on repeat and no matter what other songs I tried to sing this one kept coming back. Determined to see where the orange would take me, I kept walking. Not actually knowing whether or not this path would lead me back to the entrance when I decided to head back. Each bend I came to, I said, "I'll turn back after the next bend," only to keep going hoping, not quite ready to go back and hoping I'd find a place to stop and eat my picnic without the wind blowing me away.
At one point, I passed a woman standing off to the side, her arms crossed over her body, saying in disbelief, "I was so stressed and anxious before I came here. And now I can't even remember why." I felt the same way. Lately I’ve noticed that small things have a way of getting under my skin and staying there. Often times it’s work related as I noticeably feel the weight of it all leaving my shoulders when I get home, but pieces stay behind and build as the weeks go on. But standing there among the poppies, I was present. Feeling that same weight being lifted as the woman I passed. Feeling that same sense of being in the moment and actually experiencing it. It made me realize how much I miss nature and the calming effects it has on me. And how much joy I get out of something so simple as wildflowers. I often talk to the flowers and trees I find and make sure to tell them how beautiful they look today. I felt like I could keep going, keep moving, fully aware that the crunchie bar in my backpack would keep me fueled for a while, because I wanted to see more, see what was around the corner, just experience it for a little longer before having to get back in my car and drive to reality.
Inside my backpack was a lunch of orzo with peas, spinach and halloumi cheese, cheese and crackers, a thermos of tea, and that crunchie bar; my notebook and a variety of pens; my other camera lens; The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I wanted to read poetry to the poppies but the wind wasn’t having it. If I owned the perfect Elizabeth Bennett walks through the mud to reach Netherfield dress, I would have worn it in a heartbeat. There's something about the fabric of a long dress blowing in the wind as you stand perched on a hillside. I reached a point in the trail where I could either walk up the hill, which didn’t look that steep until I was half way up and gasping for breath, or turn around and head back the way I came. There was a bench perfectly situated at the bottom of the hill so I took a break for some cheese and crackers. A couple passed me as they walked down the hill and continued on their way until they were out of sight. Packing everything back inside, I started to walk again.
At the summit, there was another set of benches and a clear view of the horizon. The mountains stood in the distance and I saw for the first time how far the wildflowers spread. I sat down, trying to catch my breath, and holding onto the bench in order to avoid blowing away. This was where the wind was the strongest. Feeling very much like a flag caught in a storm, I began my descent back into the valley. And this was when I saw my favorite field of the day. It was almost red in color (see the below picture) and so dense with color in a way the other fields weren’t. (Which is quite something, as the fields I had just come through were already so vibrant.) After hiking another two miles, I made my way back to the parking lot. My stomach starting to grumble for lunch, I set off to find a different spot to picnic.
As I was driving to the poppy reserve, I passed a field with cypress tress growing next to the poppies that grew alongside the road. I didn’t stop as I passed the first time, determined to get inside the reserve, too much in a hurry then. This time I stopped. I pulled off to the side of the dirt road, poured myself a cup of tea, and began to eat my lunch. The wind now a light breeze coming through the open window. As I ate, I watched the couples in the field taking pictures and the cars streaming past. Soon I was one of those cars driving back home, listening to Harry Potter discover that he was in fact a wizard and the descriptions of this new world he was exploring, just as I was leaving this world I had rediscovered. Only this time, it looked very different from how it did in the past.