More commonly known as Downy Brome and ‘fondly’ referred to as Cheat Grass, I don’t think I’ll ever get all of the seed heads out of my shoes, but it was well worth it.
I was up at the buttcrack of dawn to meet my new friend, Miss Wisconsin, the Dirt Doctor, at the NRCS office, ready to begin our journey to the very fringes of the wonderful state I call home. A couple of hours in the one-ton Ford gave us plenty of time to get to know each other, and my breakfast consisted of a Gatorade and an amazing nuegety candy-bar I hadn’t seen since Texas, just FYI. We hung our toes over the South Dakota line and waved at the friendly, barefoot Indians, then applied some sunscreen, shouldered our shovels, and tucked our grass and forb ID books under our arms – ready for a soil-testing, habitat exploring, plant plucking adventure!
I greeted a couple of my friends from Range Camp and one really big bullmastiff puppy named Zeke, tucked my lunch in the van and we headed out to the range site. Totally indulging in a super grass-geek moment, I dove head-first into a strange array of colorful, fuzzy forbs, eagerly asking my mentor, Montana, “What’s this one? And this one?” My favorite forb of the day would have to be Echinacea.
A cute little purple-petaled coneflower, Montana informed me that it is sometimes referred to as Indian Novocain, as chewing the root will quickly numb the side of your mouth and make you drool like an idiot. According to our Wildlife Biologist, it was also historically used as a laxative, which Montana was unaware of when she convinced Colorado to chew on it. He didn’t swallow it, though, so he was fine. Although it took a few bites of PB&J before the numbing agent wore off. I showed Florida how to paint designs on her hand with crushed Spiderwort flowers and found an interesting feather that I wore in my hair the rest of the day.
I was forbidden from answering anymore questions during the lunch discussion, just because I’d done a report on kangaroo rats in third grade and still remembered everything about them. We played a game involving several different species of grass-dwelling critters (including kangaroo rats) where we tromped through the pasture and decided on locations that would fit our assigned species’ needs for a habitat.
My group was assigned the Ornate Box Turtle and the Sharp-Tailed Grouse. Once we found a suitable lek ground for the Sharp-Tailed Grouse, Montana took pictures of us doing an imitation of the mating dance. So when those pictures show up on Facebook, bear in mind they are NOT blackmail material, because I took them willingly!!
Oh, and I’ll have to share the story of how my brothers and I used to temporarily capture Box Turtles, paint a number (with pink nail polish) on their backs and turn them loose to see how many of them came through the next year. Now it appears that I’m going into a field of study where people get paid to do things like that. Who’da thunk it?
Miss Wisconsin the Dirt Doctor gave us a lesson on how to expertly wield a sharpshooter and how to test soil for the presence of lime, which can affect what kinds of plant species are able to grow. We tested several sites and quickly began to see how plant species can factor into production quantities and grazing rotation. I was excited to experience the kinds of things that I could possibly be doing everyday for the rest of my life. It seems like the more I play with plants, the more cool people I meet. I’m liking this trend.
So even though I’m still picking Bromus Obnoxious out of my socks – thank you Rancher Craig for letting us play in your pasture, thank you Montana for getting me involved in range, and thank you Miss Wisconsin for the wonderful road trip.
Peace out, Girl Scout