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  • Writer's pictureSean

I picked these flowers for you

Updated: Feb 24

Sean Duclay is hiking in the Aragonese mountains, in Spain. Just 40 kilometers away from France on the Iberian side of the Pyrenees.
Me, flowerless, looking at the valley below

Hiking two thousand five-hundred meters above sea level and surrounded by mountains, I spot these two small flowers. They are each smaller than the nail on my thumb.

Usually I leave things as they are in nature, loving to repeat in my head "leave no trace"; a mantra that comes from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's program to reduce pollution and destruction of America's natural environments.

I kneel down to observe these flowers closer, one is white, the other is a light shade of purple. My knee feels wet as the spongy soil releases it's trapped moisture percolating through my jeans. Around me are shades of gray, brown, and white. Even the evergreens seem muted by the overcast sky, blending with the dull colors around them.

I don't know what they're called, and I have a feeling that even though they're here in the Aragonese mountains I have seen these flowers in New York. I pluck them one at a time and pinch the finger-long severed stems between my pointer finger and thumb, comparing again their tiny size with my nail that changes from pink to white because of my tight grip, keeping the cold winds from whisking them away.

I picked them because I think you might like them. With them in my hand now, cut off from the earth and their life force, it dawns on me. You will probably not accept these, nor any flowers from me... Maybe if I was lucky it would be Valentine's Day, and then you might.

I continue walking behind you until you to find a nice viewpoint on the trail, where the trees open up and create a perfect natural frame for the spectacular views. Now we can both catch our breath. We're not used to this thin mountain air.

We look at the snow capped mountains across the valley with the clear-water river snaking swiftly through. We huff and puff until our breathing slows down to a rate close to normal; and I take the opportunity to remove a layer despite the cold air. Each step we take is an ascent and requires a lot of effort. Warm blood swirls around my body, and I'm one layer away from going full Tarzan.

We are at that elevation between where trees grow, and where the air is too thin for even the resilient evergreens to bother taking root. After a dozen meters we will be above the last of them.

I roll the stems between my pointer-finger and thumb, and the flowers look like tops spinning back and forth. The petals blur together so create one semi-invisible blade that goes all the way around the yellow center. For an instant, I think of a weed whacker.

You look entranced by the view before us, and why not; we seldom see such incredible sights from our hometowns at sea-level. I think of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. There is no human creation that can compare to the awe instilled by the massive rock formations we bear witness to.

I keep the flowers twirling, with enough distance between the stems for them to be dancing individually like synchronized ballerinas on a stage. Then I pause, and they still in my hand.


I break the trance

"Look at these two flowers I found"

You turn, slowly. I suddenly feel like I unplugged a computer that can't afford to lose power

Sucking your teeth after your eyes rest on them for a moment

"Sean, why the hell would you do that? You killed them."

After you turn back up the mountain I take another look at the flowers.

It's true, these flowers' luck ran out when I put the van in park in the valley beneath us. I'm at a loss.

What do I do with them?

I resume twirling them, and decide to lay them to rest on the mountain that has been forcing life here to struggle and adapt for 150 million years.

I put the white flower in my mouth, stem-first so the flower itself is the only thing visible, like a pacifist's gag. I blow hard and watch the flower shoot out. Its slight cone-shape catches the air going down and descends gently into the waterfall's spray that starts above me on my left, and disappears.

After a pause, I reload. I stick the purple flower stem-first in my mouth. I think I'm ridiculous, but somehow this feels like a ceremony. I take a last look around me, then shoot it out, letting gravity and the wind take it to its final resting place where it will no doubt return to the earth that nurtured it. It's turn to provide life to the next generation has come, after its own was cut short.

Leave no trace.

I turn up the mountain to follow you, and shiver from head to toe before taking a first step upward.

There is a break in the clouds and the sun shines through. Even the gray bald spots caused by rockslides that scar the forests become full of color, and I regret losing the flowers and their pale colors too soon.

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