This time of year, I love walking across the tundra, seeing buds turn into flowers, new growth spring from dried plants, and the hills change from brown to green. In the past two weeks, we have seen summer arrive to the Kangerlussuaq tundra: the ice is gone from Long Lake, baby birds are begging for food in their nests, and new flowers are appearing every day.
Although I am here to study soil erosion, I easily get excited by the flowers – the erosional features I visit daily never visibly change, yet new flowers emerge overnight, transforming the landscape. Each year I’m here, I am delighted to find my first patch of Arctic Bell Heather – an old favorite, but rare – and each year, I seem to discover a new flower. This year, flame-tipped lousewort seems to be everywhere I go, even though I never noticed it before.
I know that flowers change quickly (Christine, who actually studies the plants here, is racing against the clock, trying to accomplish everything before berries form and seeds disperse), but it always startles me when flowers seemingly appear out of thin air. Since I return to the same sites every few days, I notice when something new opens. Or then there was the day we returned to camp and niviarsiaq (Greenland’s national flower) was blooming between our tents and camp chairs.
When we arrived, Lapland rosebay dominated the landscape, setting the hills ablaze. Now, not even three weeks later, the flowers are wilted, making way for other flowers to take center stage. The timing of when buds form and flowers open – the plant phenology – is something that I try to key into each year. Although I think I know what to expect, the tundra always surprises me, new flowers appearing when I least expect them. This is what makes each hike exciting; each discovery, each new flower, invigorates me as I walk across the hills to my field sites.