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Podcast! Islands in the Ice: Nunataks S2:E3

Listen to Islands In the Ice

Nunatak: an Inuit word meaning a mountain peak jutting up through a glacier. A nunatak might not be a hospitable place to spend a few thousand years, but exposed rocky mountaintops are sometimes all that a few hardy species need to survive. In this episode, George Thornton, local educator, naturalist and botanist, shares his knowledge and experiences studying the unique plant communities found atop the highest peaks in the Okanogan. By connecting big ideas of climate, geology, and ecosystem dynamics, George makes sense of how some of the tiny alpine and tundra plants can be found here today, and why they might be in peril.

Season 2 of the Highland Wonders Podcast is supported by Humanities Washington and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Alpine Meadow with rocky peaks in the background, Pasayten Wilderness

Anna, Nature Detective

Season 2, Episode 3: Islands in the Ice

Anna is a daring and precocious nature detective. She loves to sing, and dance, and make up songs and dances about the things that she observes. Anna LOVES animals, a

nd she is the kid who can catch the cat that no one else can. When Anna explores she likes to look at things close up, touch them, peer at them through her Nature Detective hand lens. Sometimes, things that can’t run away suit Anna’s detective style best, but fortunately Anna is also very careful not to hurt anything.

“Red, Orange and Yellow! Green, Blue and Indigo! Viiiiooooolllleeetttt” Anna makes up the tune to her Rainbow Song as she traipses along a trail through a wildflower strewn meadow. It has been a long hike to reach this field of beautiful flowers. Fortunately her mom brought along a whole pack of power pellets…jelly beans of every color, to match the rainbow of flowers stretching out in front of them.

“Hey mom, let’s try to find a flower for every color of the rainbow, and take their pictures!”

“What a great idea!” Anna’s mom says, “When you are all grown up, these pictures will remind us of this amazing day!” Anna’s mom appreciates that Anna would rather take pictures than pick flowers. They learned recently that flowers are an important part of making seeds, and seeds are how plants reproduce and survive. If everyone picked wildflowers, we might not have any left to enjoy, but pictures are good forever and don’t hurt a thing.

And so the search for a rainbow of flowers begins. 

There is the red paintbrush, “click, click” goes the camera. 

Indigo lupine and yellow arnica, “click, click” goes the camera. 

“Ok, Anna, what colors are we missing?”

Anna murmurs her rainbow song, and checks off colors on her fingers. “Orange! Green! Blue! Viiiiioooooollllleeetttt!”  Anna sings.

Anna and her mom continue down the trail, and come to a place where a creek crosses the trail. There are different flowers here, where it is wet. They find a long, stalky green flower – they’ll have to look it up later. “Click click” goes the camera. They find a big, bright orange, speckled flower – a tiger lily. And a purple flower with lots of petals. Anna’s mom suspects that the purple one might be an aster. 

“All we need now is blue!” Anna and her mom are stumped. They had already decided that the lupine is indigo, but they haven’t seen any truely blue flowers yet. 

The two make their way to a place where jumbles of rocks lead up to a ridge. Anna starts to climb – her favorite activity. She climbs the first set of rocks, and as she crests the top she spies something amazing – a blue, almost green-blue, tiny flower. She never would have seen it if she hadn’t climbed the rocks or been so close to the ground – now that she looks more carefully, there are quite a few of these tiny blue-green flowers. 

“Mom! Come up here! You have to! There are blue flowers!” Anna’s mom is skeptical, but she is also a good sport, so she carefully climbs up next to Anna, “Wow! What an amazing find! I haven’t ever seen a flower like this, Anna!”

After arriving back at home, Anna and her mom investigate. It turns out that the flower is called a glaucous gentian, a tundra plant, that is thought to be very rare in the Okanogan, and only found on the highest peaks! They are excited to learn more about how and why this pretty turquoise flower comes to be here, and wouldn’t you know,  there is a podcast episode all about it. They settle in to listen to Islands in the Ice, with George Thornton!Learn all about Islands in the Ice as well as other natural history topics on Okanogan Highlands Alliance’s Highland Wonders Podcast. You can find episodes and more nature detective stories at or on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you find your podcasts.

Glaucous Gentian, rare (and turquoise!) plant found on nunataks in the Okanogan.
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