GUEST POST, by NIKKI HILL
“Sagebrush sea” is an endearing term that describes the vast high desert steppe lands of western North America. Rolling hills enveloped in silver green shimmer and sparkle like waves in the mid-day sun. This sea that spans the wide valleys and crests over plateaus connects the peaks and ridges from the shores of the Cascades and Sierra Nevada to the Greater Rocky Mountains. It is vast, indeed like an ocean. Nowhere does it ripple more like a sea than in the Great Basin, which coverrs most of Nevada and half of Utah, held by the Wasatch range to the east and the Sierra Nevada to the West, spilling out into the Mojave to the south and well into eastern Oregon in the north.
Many of the desert plants do indeed resemble ocean creatures: coral-like cactus and urchin-like succulents. Although it is commonly thought of as desolate and emptiness, the high desert steppe is incredibly abundant and alive. 350 species of wildlife and insects depend just on sagebrush herself.
The sagebrush sea is one of the largest continuous landscape types in North America, but only 5% of the area receives protection at the federal level, making it the least protected landscape in the USA.
This sea has been speaking to me for some time now. Calling me back, holding my attention, inviting me to see the patterns within it. In 2009, I was first introduced to the various First Food plants of the high desert, the traditional staple-food plants, and the reciprocal relationships that have fostered them for thousands of years. I have dedicated the majority of my time to following these plants since 2013, spending time camping and interacting with them, learning how to tend them, gathering and planting their seeds and picking up their stories as I wander. I have become endeared to them, bonded to their continuance in heart and hand.