Alpine Wildflowers: A Gentle Whisper in the Mountains

Steve Roels
On December 28, 2020

In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. – Psalm 95:4

In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. – Micah 4:1

The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by. – 1 Kings 19:11

scene of Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

The Bible regularly refers to mountains, both as real points of geographic reference and as imagery to describe the awesome strength of God. Living in the Rocky Mountains, I am surrounded by mountain majesty and reminders of God’s mighty works every day. My wife and I regularly hike above 10,000 feet and experience the grandeur of the Continental Divide.

Yet, when hiking the mountains, I often find myself marveling at another manifestation of God’s creative power: the communities of montane and alpine wildflowers that blanket the ground. The extreme climate and short growing season at high elevations mean that most plants are diminutive, but they are no less beautiful for it.

three macro shots of wildflowers

I’m not alone when it comes to tiny flowers pulling my eyes away from towering mountains and down toward the ground. Botanist Edwin James, who was the first Euro-American to summit Pikes Peak in 1820, wrote, “A little above the point where the timber disappears entirely, commences a region of astonishing beauty…covered with a carpet of low but brilliantly flowering alpine plants…”

three macro shots of wildflowers

This past summer, I got an inexpensive macro lens for my cell phone, which greatly enhanced my ability to photograph unfamiliar flowers for later identification. My wife has grown accustomed to leaving me behind on the trail, as I get down on my hands and knees to examine the latest botanical find. James’ writings about Pikes Peak indicate this is nothing new, “We met, as we proceeded, such numbers of unknown and interesting plants, as to occasion much delay…”

three macro shots of wildflowers

The biblical writers certainly had their attention captured by the little things of creation as well. Lilies, ants, crocuses, and lizards all receive their due in the Bible, right alongside the mountains, heavens, and seas. No matter the size, everything in creation is a work of God’s hands, and therefore worthy of our consideration. But for humans, bound as we are to experiencing the world at a particular physical scale, perhaps additional focus on the smallest and most easily overlooked will draw us closer to God.

I think it’s worth revisiting that passage from 1 Kings, where Elijah is called to the mountain to wait for the LORD to pass by:

“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” – 1 Kings 19:11-13

 

mountains with snow on them with sunflowers in the foreground

Alpine Sunflower (Hymenoxys grandiflora)


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Steve Roels
About the Author

Steve Roels

Steve Roels (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is the Senior Natural Resource Specialist for a municipal Parks and Open Space department near Denver. His graduate research and professional work focus on restoration ecology and conservation biology in tropical forests and prairie ecosystems. When not matching wits with wily prairie dogs in town, he enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains with his wife, Sarah Bodbyl Roels.
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