These five months in Central Oregon strike me as a montage celebrating the Dionysian. The district, especially to the south in our swath of sage grouse habitat, was at first sleepy, cold, blanketed in its last sheet of snow, filled with just green-gray sagebrush rustling in the freezing wind; it soon stirred with little basal starts that my naive self dreamed were potential collections but ultimately were weedy little bur buttercups (Ceratocephala testiculata); and then things exploded into being and colors, yellow asters leading the way and mimicking the sun in their rays, blue pea-shaped lupine shocking the landscape with vibrancy, crimson-orange paintbrush charming even as their roots drilled into the roots of other plants to steal a little water and nutrients here and there. It had been a wetter winter than the last, so it almost seemed like flowers fell over themselves in portraying their luscious petals to their pollinators, and to me, the collector. And just as quickly, they dried, shriveled up, proffered some seed (if we were lucky), then disappeared, many leaving not even a shred of a remnant of their being. It was an explosive affair, and we felt a certain manic excitement when we timed it just right, or were just fortunate enough, to haul in a good batch of seeds. There were times, too, when often-monitored collections just spirited away, and our drive home was far more dejected. Sometimes the flash of flowers were just that, and no seed were to be found nearly at all.
There were celebrations of thunderstorms, which more often than not found me at the top of hillsides; I’d rush to the rig with my seed bag under my shirt, then watch as the rolling clouds and flashes of lightning danced across my vista then away. There were windy days on scapes, watching as the achenes of the invasive Lord Tragopogon dubius (which presents itself in a pappus ball bigger than a softball) took flight in impressive flocks. There were the rowdy roads that had us bouncing about in our rig’s cabs, our seatbelts straining to keep us in the vague radius of our seats.
Between that all, there were the quiet days. Quiet days filled the bulk of our time, but they blur together in memory. The one blended scene is this: the sun is bright, sometimes painfully bright. It was hard to pick out the particular shade of dried plant from the other shade of dried plants with sunglasses on, so we bore with the sun. Even when my field partner and I were working at the same site, we drifted away from each other to maximize the land we covered, so much of my time in the field was alone. My sunbleached senses snagged on the snapping of seed from plants, the clicking of my little metal movie-theater counter, the horseflies insistently orbiting and sometimes biting, the wind drying sweat from our brows – or just as frequently, hijacking a couple of the lighter seeds. Sometimes a cow would challenge us to a game of who could moo louder. Our ears craned for the rattling of snakes and we jumped when we rustled past a plant with seed pods that mimicked the sound.
My down time too was a celebration of the outdoors, since folks can find nearly any outdoor activity they like within a half hour drive from Bend. I found myself climbing and hiking every weekend, even after long weeks in the field. I thought I would stay here after this internship, but alas… community college is cheaper in California.
I’m changing tracks after this internship. As much as I loved the work and the mission for SOS, there are other avenues I’m planning on exploring next. Still, what a wonderful season to end my foray into botany as an occupation. I intend to continue annoying my hiking partners by stopping at every flowering forb I see.
Vi Nguyen, Prineville BLM