Because of an injury that side-lined my life, I had to sit still for a year and a half. During 18 months of just sitting I began to see the world around me in a totally different way. Day after day, after week, after month, I watched the natural world turn and change and adapt to all kinds of conditions. I knew to survive; I had to do the same, so I became an involuntary naturalist, observing things around me in minute detail, trying to find the lessons in each subtle change.
No longer an involuntary naturalist, I am standing on the brink of a new wonderful life seeing things I’ve never seen before. Some are mundane and simple, like the sand in my yard or the rock wall on the patio. But some of the seemingly simple things I see, upon closer inspection, are much more complex. The more you look, the more you see.
On a recent road trip from Tumalo to Klamath Falls, along the marshy lakeshore of Klamath Lake, between swirling clouds of dense black bugs, in the thin strip of land where the shallow lake meets the dry sandy hills, stands of bright yellow rabbit brush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus) spread out on the low, moist sandy spots. How could I not have noticed these yellow bushes before? The plants are in bloom right now all over Central and Eastern Oregon. Everywhere I look, rabbit brush stands sentinel.
Rabbit brush is a VERY common shrub. These plants, which grow at higher elevations, are from one to three feet tall with wooly hairs and soft narrow leaves. They bloom in late August and September. Their bright yellow blooms surround the shrub like a glowing halo lighting up the high desert in late August and September. Rabbit brush shares its habitat with sagebrush. Often they grow side by side, but rabbit brush requires moister conditions and sandier soil than sagebrush. Rabbit brush likes sunny open sites where it moves in, grows quickly and prevents soil erosion.
Wildlife use rabbit brush only lightly for forage. In winter when not as much food is available, the shrub becomes more appealing. Deer and sometimes jackrabbits feed on the leaves. Rabbit brush also provides cover for nesting birds. Cows won’t eat it, but hungry sheep will. Native Americans used it for food and medicine.
In late August, when grasshoppers are active and the night air buzzes with insects, the rabbit brush reigns. Their golden showy flowers are the first sign that fall is on the way—the yellow in the flowers mimicking the gold of Aspens in late fall. Driving up the hill to my house there is an old road cut. It’s a sandy low spot on the side of a hill. Right now it’s a showcase for the rabbit brush. A hill filled with yellow. Not the soft yellow of early spring, but the hard, bright yellow of summer, sunflowers, and the fall that will soon come.
Sources: SageBrush Country by Ronald J. Taylor and Beyond Sagebrush by Darrin Furry.