THE INCESSANT GALE-FORCE wind is howling as I crouch low to view a beautiful, prostrate, and seemingly delicate alpine plant. My wife, Ellen, and I are between two peaks at nearly 12,600 feet (3,800 m) above sea level, exhilarated by the locally well known Washoe Zephyr winds, and botanizing. We stand on an unglaciated ridge in the eastern Sierra, high above the Owens Valley between Parker Peak and Mount Wood. The ridge forms a topographic funnel that creates a venturi effect, greatly enhancing the Zephyr’s speed before it rushes over the ridge and descends into a deep, glacier-carved canyon on its path east towards Mono Lake and western Nevada. Focusing on keeping my balance and too far above the diminutive rosettes at my feet, I am brought to my knees for a closer look. This is a true “belly plant” as all those who have botanized it will attest. I am in the presence of a most intriguing variety of the otherwise common pussypaws (Calyptridium umbellatum); I have found the uncommon alpine pussypaws (Calyptridium umbellatum var. caudiciferum)!
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