PAT NEAL: The skunk cabbage; the real state flower

IT’S SPRINGTIME IN the lowlands.

You can tell because folks are back to cussing the rain instead of the snow.

It’s been said the Eskimos have 50 different words for snow.

Fishing guides have at least that many words for rain.

These include driving rain, freezing rain and many names that cannot be printed in a newspaper.

Sometimes, a miserable day spent getting soaked in penetrating mist or localized showers can become more enjoyable when we explain that it’s just a seasonal trend of warm, moisture-laden air being pushed over the icy mass of the Olympic Mountains with the resulting release of atmospheric moisture.

Significant moisture events known as “gully-washers” flow downslope to rivers that have run since time began.

Sometimes what people think is rain in the rainforest is not rain at all but just a sprinkling phenomenon called a penetrating mist or a blinding drizzle.

There’s a fine line between the blinding drizzle and a light shower.

Fortunately, by using appropriate atmospheric terminology, visitors to the North Olympic Peninsula will come to understand that being wet is cool.

It’s a simple fact that without rain we would have no rivers and without rivers we would have no fish.

The rain wakes up the frogs and makes the skunk cabbage blooms all the more vibrant.

The luxuriant yellow blossoms of the skunk cabbage form an enchanting tableau in our roadside bogs and swamps that often appear irresistible to tourists visiting from distant lands.

When you see someone parked by the side of the road picking skunk cabbage flowers you know that they are foreigners from very far away.

While the practice of picking wildflowers is generally discouraged in the wild lands of this great country for fear that the missing flowers cannot be enjoyed by other nature lovers, visitors to the Olympic Peninsula are encouraged to pick all of the skunk cabbage flowers they could possibly want.

It gladdens the heart of the locals to see our tourist friends cruising our antique roads with a magnificent bouquet of skunk cabbage flowers displayed on the dashboard of their vehicle.

Until the pungent skunk-like aroma starts their eyes watering and they swerve over to the side of the road to toss the flowers into the ditch and keep driving with the windows down.

All of which causes questions to be asked.

Has our current state flower the rhododendron, ever produced this much joy among the simple country folk of the hinterland? No.

The rhododendron might look nice but its blossoms fade so quickly we hardly get our money’s worth.

We should expect more from an official state flower.

No one stops to sniff the rhododendrons either. Their aroma is subtle and weak compared to the robust, heady, natural perfume of the skunk cabbage in bloom.

I and many other right-thinking skunk cabbage enthusiasts suspect a corrupt political agenda of the rhododendron cabal that made it the state flower to begin with.

A spurious examination of the rhododendron’s qualifications to serve as state flower reveal its inability to fairly and equitably represent the diverse population of the Evergreen State.

While the rhododendron grows only in the drier more affluent districts of Washington, the skunk cabbage thrives in “the Other Washington.”

You know the one. It’s flooded most of the year.

The skunk cabbage enjoys a rich heritage of keeping the Native Americans alive in ancient times. No one ever ate a rhododendron.

It’s time to scrap the rhododendron and make the skunk cabbage the Washington state flower.

We’ll thank ourselves later if we do the right thing now.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal [email protected].

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