Kickin’ off the field season in the high desert

When asked to conjure up a scene of natural beauty and serenity, the go-to image for a lot of folks I know – including myself from a not so distant past – is a lushly vegetated vista. Maybe it’s psychological, or linked to some evolutionary hard-wiring. After all, lots of green, lots of wet, lots of resources. Or at the very least a good place to string up a hammock.

Moving to Central Oregon’s “high desert” – in quotation marks because many areas around here are actually semi-arid and get a touch more than ten inches of rain a year – has, for me, added some third party intrigue to the marital suite shared by lushness and beauty. First of all, photos of the sagebrush-steppe around here don’t always do them much justice. It’s hard to capture the emotive vastness and calmness of being out there. It can also be easy to wash out the soft shades of the forest-gray of the Artemisia with its reddish-brown to tawny inflorescence skeletons; the mint-gray of the rabbitbrush (a sure sign of disturbance and/or overgrazing) with its yellow star-like flower remains; the deep blue of the buttes and mountains that line the distant horizon from nearly every direction; the little pops of near neon orange, yellow and green on volcanic rock formations; and yes, the more vibrant greens of the new shoots of bunchgrasses and forbs screaming hey! Look at me! Under your foot, ya oaf! Spring is here!

Secondly, there’s a lot of narrative going on here in this ecosystem, and there isn’t a thing this girl loves more than some natural history. A strapping tale of over-grazing, water-suckin’ (although native) western juniper creeping into shrub-steppe lands due to fire exclusion, noxious invasives at every turn – with our protagonists, the native bunchgrasses and forbs, trying to push back against all odds with the help of their buds at the BLM and SOS! Or something like that. (I’ve got a whole season to work on all the nuances.)

I’ve only been here for two weeks as of this post, so most of the work my fellow SOS intern and I have been doing with the Prineville BLM has revolved around training, learning about the plants we should try to collect this year, scouting some of the sites recommended to us from last year’s SOS intern, and miscellaneous opportunities like leading some kids in a native seed sowing day and checking out some sensitive species populations. It’s still early so many of the plants are still just popping out of the ground, but there’s some early flowers – like Ranunculus glaberrimus var. glaberrimus (sagebrush buttercup) and Lomatium spp. (biscuitroot).

... wait a day. Or in our case, five minutes.

Caught in a surprise burst of snow on a muddy drive.

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Little tiny Draba verna!

Some Ranunculus glaberrimus var. glaberrimus leading the way for spring!

Some Ranunculus glaberrimus var. glaberrimus leading the way for spring.

Beautiful Smith Rock.

Hikin’ around beautiful Smith Rock.

Crazy cool lichen.

Likin’ the lichen.

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