Skip to main content

Native Plants of Eastern Washington (A Poem)

Andrea Lawrence has a master's in creative writing. She studied fiction, poetry, playwriting, and screenwriting.

Native Plants of Eastern Washington

Sometimes when flipping through books,

I'll stumble across an old note.

This particular note was in cursive;

it was from a friend I hadn't talked to in years:

"Before you start designing your garden,

walk through the desert in spring.

Plan a trip to look at wildflowers,

use native plants as part of your break

to stop wildfires."

The note continued on like this, hinting

of a secret world beyond the Columbia Basin.

"Is the soil sandy? Does it contain

a lot of silt, maybe clay? Group

plants together that like the same

amount of water. Pick perennial plants

native to your ground; go and be deeply

rooted in the rolling hills, steep

river canyons, and the tall

and sinuous ridges.

Let yourself drift into the valley

of the lost ruby-white sprites.

The Western juniper will guide you:

it's an evergreen with cinnamon to gray-brown bark.

The Ponderosa pine has a lot to say

with its long needles

and orange-brown hue.

Don't get too alarmed by the needles

and thorns of the forest. Pine's

scent is pleasant, and it invites

you to go deeper into the mysteries

of the native flora and fauna.

Keep your eyes open for fantasy:

the Quacking aspen romances onlookers

with its heart-shaped leaves—those leaves

loving to flutter in the wind

as if gasping for air.

The Quacking aspen will hypnotize

with a special charm:

leaves that turn gold during autumn's song.

Before you leave the fairy haven,

take some bark from the chokecherry—

use it to ferment a drink. Use the tree's

white flowers and red fruit for a hot tea.

The hawthorn forms

in the thickest thickets, and the water birch near it

is smooth and dark, like the reddish-brown fur

of a plump magic fox.

Ask the woman in the white dress, a relative

you once knew but died years ago, ask her

to make you a bouquet

of white yarrow, orange Munroe's globemallow,

yellow Carey's balsamroot, and purple

hoary aster. Slip those big pink flowers,

the Bitterroot, behind your ear.

Eat the honey from the jar,

let it sweeten your breath

and then paint your lips

with the pink petals of thread-leaved daisy.

Sleep in a meadow of silky lupine,

the blue-white flowers with silvery leaves—

it's the flora darling of the moon and her hound.

When you tire of flowers

and heart-shaped leaves,

amble to the fields of Idaho fescue—

the dense clump of delicate yet graceful

blue-green leaves liken moisture,

so pack an umbrella and rain boots

to make it through the grassy carpet.

Run when the bluebunch wheatgrass

bursts into flames. Keep running,

and running, and running,

little traveler, you need to run

while the world burns and burns.

It does its cyclically waxing

and waning of flames

to make ashes and refresh

the wilderness-scape.

It's a fire soliloquy

to hear its own thoughts

after all the chatter

from the woodland folks.

Step into the green light of the fairy glow, float

down a river until you spot

evergreen groundcover, white baby flowers,

and red berries. Kinnickinnick.

The special shrub used for medicines

and herbal recipes. A word so lovely,

it needs to be said a second time.


Stumble, sweet traveler, into

the multiple stems of shrubs

from hazelnut, red-osier dogwood,

and elderberry. Kiss the sumac

of the Fairy King's garden. Take some

sumac with you, dye

your palest dress.

Your sad pale number on the hanger

will look better in a deep, lively red.

Dozens of teen angels will wait

at an arch of branches;

they'll wait for you, they'll beg you

to stop with your indulging. 'Stop',

they'll say,

'and go back to the lanes

where your mother and father

dreamed of you

before you were born.'

I promise if you get lost long enough,

you'll find this paradise at the Western edge.

It'll smell fresh with minty scents; it's adorned in

edible red berries, green leathery leaves,

crunchy nuts, and purple blooms.

The plants sing as morning dew dots their flesh.

On second thought,

don't collect the plants

and take them back with you.

Let them grow wild

where the soil knows their names.

If you happen to accidentally

take a cutting with you,

dig a big hole,

let the roots hang

without curling up.

Fill the hole with water.

Let it drain like a song melting

into your ears.

Firm the soil around the roots.

Use drip irrigation

to water the plants.

Drylanders tolerate

water better than most.

Native plants need little

if any pesticides.

Use periodic thinning

to maintain order.

And I'll leave you with this last

piece of advice:

The meadow will be waiting for you

when you need a day to escape."

© 2022 Andrea Lawrence