By Robert Lucke
This is a good time of year to start a family activity that can last through the whole spring, summer and fall, cost less than nothing and along with being fun, a great way to spend some quality time together, it is an activity that is good exercise and most educational.
It is the spotting and identifying of wild flowers.
What you need to start this is a good flower book, good walking shoes, and a time once a week to see what new is happening in the Bear Paw flower world.
There are plenty of flowers to identify, some of which are the most beautiful of any found in Montana.
This time of year, the harbinger of most all flowers are glorious displays of soft pussy willows along all Bear Paw creeks. This time of year there are grand displays in the meadows just north east of the Bear Paw Ski Bowl. When you find pussy willows, not far behind are scores of early spring varieties.
In this part of the country, an interesting sidelight to identifying wild flowers is to research their uses to Native Americans and early homesteaders. There are stories to be found in most of the area's flowers.
For instance, the pasque flower, commonly known as a crocus, provided early boys and girls paint for coloring Easter eggs.
Not long after the first pasque flowers, came carpets of buttercups, and whole fields of roosterheads and shooting stars. After that the whole rest of the summer is a veritable feast of flowers that defy description.
A couple to look for are in Beaver Creek Park, at the end of May, the whole park is famous for its show of bright yellow balsam root. The adjoining Rocky Boy area is just as famous for its illusive but beautiful mountain orchids.
And some have even found patches of Glacier lilies. Rare in the Bear Paws.
Another extension of this family activity is to build an inexpensive flower press and keep examples of the family's favorite posies. Plans for simple flower presses may be found on the Internet or at the Havre/Hill County Library.
As to books, don't be frightened by buying a book that seems to be geared for another part of Montana. Most central Montana mountain flowers are found in books about Glacier flowers, Central Rocky Mountain wildflowers or prairie wildflowers. Buy a simple book at first and be prepared to buy others as the family's interest broadens.
Now is the time to start and the meadows at Baldy are a good starting place with those first 2000 pussy willows.