Learning to Understand Wild Sage in Colorado
Yurts at Poncha Pass - Colorado Yurt Rentals and Sustainable Building Workshops - Photo of Chris in ground of Earthship

Written by Chris

May 30, 2019

Looking South into the sage country of San Luis Valley

Since starting work at Poncha Pass last August and again this spring, I find myself passing the days in a field of sage. Initially, one does not notice the twisted woody plant with a elegant green canopy right away as it sweeps across and dominates the landscape. Slowly however, I find it creeping into my life. Between digging holes, I often stand catching my breath, leaning against my digging bar and watch the breeze sweep through the light green velvet canvass. The stocks twist and turn, reflecting years of drought and times of flush rain. Some sage can live to be over a hundred years in age and I am impressed with both its strength and fragility. If it is stepped on, a few weeks later I will see the same bush dying. However, left undisturbed, sage often barely rooted into the ground, stands the test of wild temperature fluctuations and variable years of moisture. If a rain cloud does open up, the sage releases an intoxicating aroma of camphor, terpenoids and tannins. These aromatic compounds help repel grazers and have attracted human attention for millennia. Known to treat headaches, colds, wounds to prevent infection, and used ceremonially for generations through native American cultures, the sagebrush silently holds both secrets, and openly sits simply and unobtrusively across our vast western landscape.

This past weekend, I was happy to welcome some friends who wanted to see the area I am beginning to call home and we spent the evening siting under a star filled sky while enjoying the warmth of a sage fire. While sitting there, I realized just how special that moment was. I had to remove a limited amount of sage for the yurts I am putting in and have tried to minimize what gets pulled. I also see that after years of drought, there is a certain amount of thinning of dead sage that should be done, also known to promote new growth. Even so, these fires will be few and far between.

Placing a piece of sage on the fire, I watch as the fire rages to life. Six-foot flame lengths stretch into the night, whipping towards the stars. There are no embers, no sparks or bursts, just the silent building up to a roar and the subsidence thereafter as the oils within the bark burn to ash. The smell and heat is intoxicating and I find myself sitting late into the night, long after the last has gone to bed contemplating this wild landscape and the secrets it still holds.

 

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