Whenever I see patches of lupine along the roadside, I think of Mrs. Bolmeier. I think of her lesson. Well, she was my high school senior English teacher, and she was the student counselor that year, too, but I don't think of those lessons; instead I think of a sort of field trip we took together.
It was a fine spring day, and Mrs. Bolmeier and I set off from Vernonia to drive to Salem, ostensibly so she could visit her sister. I could tag along, because the timing of the sisterly visit just happened to coincide with the day Willamette University was conducting testing and interviews for incoming freshmen competing for a big scholarship. Many years later I allowed myself to realize that the trip was really for me, not for Mrs. Bolmeier.
My day on campus consisted of several hours of written exams, an interview with the college chaplain, and probably a tour. I don't really remember much else. What I do remember was the drive home, up Highway 47 along the foothills separating the Willamette Valley from the Coast Range to the west. It was a beautiful day and the road dipsy doodled past farms and orchards and through small towns. At one point, we came upon a big stand of wild lupine and Mrs. Bolmeier pulled over to the shoulder.
You've seen these lupine, surely - thigh-high stands of cobalt blue pea-like flowers, similar to snapdragons. I still raid a few favorite patches on occasion; a reliable one is in a no-man's land along the road just east of the Nehalem River Bridge on Highway 101.
Lupine make good cut flowers; they don't wilt. Their stately stems are woody and easy to arrange. Their profuse eight-inch plumes and interesting palmate leaves mean little skill produces a dramatic flower arrangement. There are lots of varieties, even among the wild species. Tiny lupine a few inches high occur at alpine elevations and sprawling versions are found on beach sand dunes. A college botanist friend did her senior paper on lupine and told me that among the hundred plus species, some are so similar they can only be distinguished through microscopic study.
The lupine Mrs. Bolmeier picked were a large, robust variety you can't miss, even driving along the freeway at 70. While we picked, she explained the stop.
"When I was a kid," she said, "my father often took us on Sunday drives. When we'd see a patch of wild flowers, I'd ask to stop and my dad would always say, 'I'll stop at the next one,' and usually the next one never came."
I don't know if Mrs. Bolmeier intended or even realized she was giving me a life lesson. She was just relaying one of the "rules" she lived by: take advantage of opportunity now; it may never come again.
Many years later, Mrs. Bolmeier's lesson was reinforced in a powerful way. My former husband and I were completing a backpacking trip around Mt. Margaret near Mt. St. Helens. The trail started on the southwest side of Spirit Lake, looped into the back country, slogged through pumice up Mt. Margaret, passed a number of small lakes, and after 15 miles or so came back around the east side of Spirit Lake to our point of origin.
On the northeast side of the big lake, we came across Harmony Falls Lodge, where a cascade dropped into the lake. Around the central lodge were several small cabins, each with a porch, Adirondack chairs and spectacular view over the lake to Mt. St. Helens-no electricity and probably no running water, but enchanting. You had to walk in or have the lodge keeper meet you across the lake and bring you in by boat.
I suggested we spend the night. My husband refused, saying "Some other time. It'll be here."
Well, you and I know Harmony Falls Lodge was blown off the face of the earth only a few seasons later when Mt. St. Helens erupted.
I've had a life of few regrets because of those two experiences, one mundane and one dramatic. I did fail to go east of the Cascades to see the solar eclipse in the late 70s, but generally I follow advice on a friend's kitchen wall: "Regret for things we've done passes with time. Regret for things we haven't done is inconsolable."
Big opportunities in life (like a solar eclipse) are few and far between, but small ones, like picking lupine, are available almost daily.
Victoria Stoppiello is a free-lance writer from Ilwaco.