Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Sagebrush, big sagebrush, possibly a variety of wormwood, this tough plant covers millions of acres of the Southwest and graces large tracts in the Tehachapi mountains. We even transplanted a few to our landscaping, although they do so well that, left alone, little else would be found around the house if we didn't whack it back from time to time. I am constantly drawn to the dusty green and scraggly shrub, which can grow up to six feet high or more, although usually it scrambles around in the one to three foot range. As I hike the trails or pause on a ride, if one is nearby, I'll pinch off a few leaves and savor the biting, herbal smell. Snort too deeply of the crushed leaves and you're left practically ill for a few moments--powerful stuff. One of the great experiences in life is to walk a Great Basin hillside in the Nevada outback after a big rain storm. The moisture releases the aromatics in the leaves and the spice envelops you. When I was younger, before heading home to coastal California when I had been on a trip to the sagey east side of the Sierras, I would rip a bundle of small branches, tie them together, and drop them onto the dash of the old VW van I had for so many years. For months afterward, every time I opened the door, the rushing odor of wild places would pour out, for a moment taking me away from mundane tasks and back to places of adventure and joyous escape. Let us venerate the common sagebrush, fuel to the homesteaders and the great perfume of the West.