Ann and I are both trying something new today. Ann has been hired on as a temp for the big yearly sale at Summit Hut, the local gear store, and I have volunteered to pull Buffelgrass in Saguaro National Park. We both bike to our jobs for the day. My ride is blissfully quiet on a sunny Saturday morning before most cars are out, riding down the plentifully broad Broadway. Just outside city limits I take more rural routes, and see my first Javelina crossing the road.
At the park, after a cursory desert and tool safety introduction, I’m following park personnel cross-country through the desert. After a few minutes it occurs to me – could I find my way back if necessary? My outdoor instincts are off in the new situation. And it’s like that the whole time. The very gracious staff patiently teach me to zero in on one species of grass in the big desert. It’s a challenging time for identification, with most plants dried out, in their dormant phase, where they all look alike to me. I crouch by each clump of grass, put my face in it, find the key parts (I learn the word “rachis”), then verify my ID with someone experienced. I try to pay attention to things outdoors, but I rarely have reason to study any one plant this closely. It’s a feeling of intimacy, even if I am studying to kill my subject.
As the day goes on we find better specimens, the piles of grass pulled up roots and all grow high, and the day gets hot. I’ve only been working a few hours, but I’m grateful when call comes to head back. We’ve cleared our area pretty well, and I’ve learned that if all goes well park personnel will return here to spray in a couple of years, and eventually the variety of local species here will increase again and the fire danger, which the native plants are not adapted to, will be reduced.