Pratt grew up on a small farm in Massachusetts and spent most of her time “outside, in nature,” she says, going on walks and gardening with her mother. When the military brought her husband to Alaska in 1966, she followed. By the time he was out of the service her daughter had only a year of high school left and the state felt pretty much like home. It was around this time that she became fascinated with botany, a pursuit that led her to places like Denali National Park to photograph flowers and collect berries for jams and jellies. The hobby became an “obsession,” she says.
She went on to write wildflower and berry guides, along with two Alaska-themed children’s books. Some of her guides, have become local classics, sold at bookstores and tourist stops all over the state. Since then, she’s been asked to lead botanical field trips and teach workshops on the subject. But still, don’t call her an expert. “I’d describe myself as a wildflower enthusiast,” she says. You could, though, call her obsessed. Her license plate? It says “BOTANY."
“Oh yes,” she says. “I am obsessed, though most of my friends are also obsessed.”
Alaska has a narrower variety of wildflowers than some other states – there are only 1,500 species of plants total in the state, places like California are home to many more – but the wildflowers here are longer lasting, and perhaps more voluminous. Decades of viewing has left her with a deep knowledge of the nuances of wildflower season. The most fragrant blooms come earlier, and tend to be small, close-to-the-ground flowers. She also knows the hot spots. The Seward Peninsula near Nome is one of the most stunning places to see flowers, but for a closer-to-home wildflower experience, you can’t really beat Arctic Valley, she says. Glen Alps is good too, though sometimes crowded. While many in Southcentral Alaska have bemoaned this summer’s wet weather, Pratt says that it has been a boon to wildflowers.
One thing that mystifies her is why more Alaskans don’t get out to enjoy the annual floral carpet more often.
“You see more of the beauty this way,” she says, gesturing around her. “Every time I come up here my first thought is The Sound of Music.”
She bends down to inspect a patch of rain-wet wild geraniums. The hills are alive.
Michelle Theriault can be contacted at email@example.com