10-25-12 Montana in Technicolor


Not today. Today Montana turned white. Hail polka dots punchy in a sifting of snow. But, yesterday. Yesterday, I felt like Dorothy, wide-eyed child in Auntie Em’s simple cotton pinafore, brown plaits thick on my shoulders, dazzled by beauty.

I looked out the cabin window to assure myself the schoolhouse survived the demons of the night and remained undisturbed on the bluff, a morning ritual preceding even Wolly’s breakfast, and while the schoolhouse was its usual self, the world had changed. Summer’s solid and somber grays and browns punctuated by the muted sage’s leathery green rambling the bluff’s downside had gone technicolor. Bright yellows and burnt oranges blazed across the bluff and up narrow ravines. You can’t see them, but just out of this pictures are two bushes of deep, flaming burgundy. On the banks of the river are the tall prairie grasses showing off lime-green leaves hoisting aloft waving stems of seed.

Around here you’ll see foxtail barley, bunch grass, switch grass, wheatgrass, buffalo grass, timothy, gama grass, even patches of blue fescue. I have a difficult time identifying a shrub unless it is sagebrush or rabbit brush. My ignorance is soothed a bit when I read descriptions of Montana plants:  “Easy to confuse with . . .” are the four words of comfort. We may have Buffaloberry, myrtle, and ash. I am certain of the snowberry. There are others of which I have not a clue.

One bush I discovered the properties of by searching the Internet. It is Sarcobatus vermiculatus or the common greasewood. There is a fair amount ringing the bluff’s crested wheat. It looks to me like a gnome-sized off shoot of a pine tree. Our tallest greasewood is about four feet spreading to, maybe, three feet. Limbs are covered with pine needles, and a tiny pine cone, pinkish to wheat in color, grows at the tip. Greasewood dies back in the winter and sprouts new growth from last year’s growth. Birds love greasewood, the grosbeak, in particular, and the Bullock’s oriole, though when we had more Western tanagers than we do today, they frequented it. Meadowlarks nest below it. Least chipmunks scurry in and out among small groups of the plant. Snowshoe rabbits hurriedly cross the road to hide among its branches. It provides food for elk, though we don’t have any around here; less so for whitetailed deer whose population goes up and down. Beleaguered rattlesnakes stretch out under it in the cooling shade. Accenting the dark greasewood clumps is the bright yellow of  rabbit brush, a great attractor of butterflies, those soaring triumphs of color.


4 responses so far

  1. Beautiful.

  2. So poetic!

  3. Oh I miss Burma Road!

  4. Yes….

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