To know this place, start with Earth-time. Deep time. Natural history:
Adrift in the Pacific, Paleozoic island arcs accrete and form what will be called the Siskiyou Mountains.
Look closer. Nearer in time.
Nine summers Lilla Leach explores the rugged Siskiyou with husband John, muleskinner who won her hand by vowing to “take her places the cake eating botanists can never get.” Along with John, unburdened thanks to their burros Pansy and Violet, Lilla climbs, hikes, sometimes crawls under the brush, over the serpentine soil, collecting and classifying plant specimens. Darlingtonia, fritillaria, knobcone.
Lilla bushwhacks Green Craggie, summits Big Craggie, rests in the shade of a knob cone pine (pinus attenuata), selects a cone, touches fingertip against the short stout prickle on the end of each scale.
1931: Suddenly we came upon a breathtaking sight. Before us, beside the trail, lay a patch of low evergreen bushlets, simply covered with deep rose flowers, vividly pink in the sunshine. I felt sure I had found something new. (Lilla Leach)
Bright against the white rock: glimpses of rosy pink. She breaks out in a run, drops to her knees among the blossoms. Lilla “discovers” one of the rarest plants on earth—Kalmiopsis leachiana—low-growing brushy heather with cinnamon-scented pink blooms like small rhododendron flowers. Named for Lilla, this endemic relic survives millions of years of deep time evolution, flourishes in a post-fire ecosystem.
Lilla shoots a cougar that is stalking her donkeys. Lifting its head by the scruff, she inspects the cat, fondles fur.
She does not collect the “varmint bounty.”
1992: Botany enthusiasts, volunteers from the Leach Botanical Garden scatter Lilla’s ashes from atop Pearsoll Peak in her beloved Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Particles of her. Flecks and fragments sift down catching sunlight. Corporeal dust motes. Specks. No, not dust, not specks. Human pollen.
To know this place you must know fire.
First comes lightning: great arcing forks across the sky, many arcs, many forks. Some reach tinder.
Wind. Flame. Smoke. Heat.
Seeds of the knob cone pine, tightly encased in resinous cone—awaiting flame—are at last released.
Kalmiopsis leachiana expands its range.