Remembering M.A.

M.A. Willson in her natural element.

M.A. Willson in her natural element.

Before I get all sentimental, here’s a tip: Go to for the best, most detailed information about where to hike, and when, to see wildflowers in Central Oregon.

You’ll learn that you’re running out of time to hit Alder Springs, and that the last week in June is usually the best time to go to Coffin Mountain. She also details "the premier hikes in Central Oregon" that you should explore in August.

In all, M.A. Willson’s site features a dozen hikes near Bend, with ideas for the Columbia River Gorge and the Arctic too. Each destination includes more than a dozen photos of wildflowers you’ll see along the way, plus directions and tips for your trip.

That website—which she created simply as a gift to her fellow nature lovers—is how I met M.A. Willson six years ago. I ran across her site while researching The Nature of Bend, and asked M.A. if she might have wildflower photos she’d be willing to share. I thought maybe she’d donate a few, but she ended up providing more than 60, including many of the most spectacular photos in the book, and she lent her considerable expertise too.

Bitterroot, one of M.A.’s favorites.

Bitterroot, one of M.A.’s favorites.

More importantly, M.A. became a friend.

I should point out that she created that website when she was in her 70s, and she was well into her 80s before I met her. So, if you didn’t know her, maybe it won’t be a surprise to tell you that M.A. passed away last June, at the age of 87.

But if you did know her, maybe like me you can’t help but think she should still be heliskiing in Canada or rafting the Owyhee or gardening better than the rest of us.

On the last active day of her life, M.A. gave a talk about wildflowers to a packed house at Broken Top Bottle Shop. I remember how light on her feet she was that night, how on point and comfortable, and how she looked forward to her post-talk beer.

It was clear to the room full of friends, family, and strangers that she’d been everywhere, knew what you’d find on every trail, and had pretty photos of all the plants you might want to know.

At the end of her talk, she handed out laminated bookmarks of photos she'd taken over the years. Then she had that beer, and a good dinner too, before walking out of the restaurant and suffering a heart attack.

Beargrass is another of her favorite blooms.

Beargrass is another of her favorite blooms.

Being M.A., she insisted on driving herself to the emergency room, where she spent the next week or so saying her goodbyes and making to-do lists for her daughter. She also told her book club which book they should read next.

Somehow or other, it’s June again, meaning a year has passed without M.A. in it. I can’t tell you how sad that makes me, but you know how it goes: There’s no stopping change, no slowing down time, no life without death. You can’t have the good side of nature, with all its beauty, and not have the rest of it.

To celebrate her life with me, please use her wonderfully generous website to explore Central Oregon’s best hikes. And in life, if not out on the trail, go ahead and leave a trace. Share what you find beautiful. Make friends every year of your life. Laugh so hard your body shakes and your eyes earn their wrinkles. Be a force of nature, like M.A.