The Green Room

“It looks so…brown”. Those were the words my mother used when she first came to visit me in Idaho. She wasn’t wrong either. September in the high desert West is well, brown (as it is most of the rest of the year). Boise receives an average of 18 inches of rain annually; the national average is 38. Despite this seemingly arid environment there is a small window of the year called spring when the hills explode with vegetation and color.

I’m an East-coaster by birth, the Garden State in fact. Like many parts of the country I grew up experiencing four seasons. As the saying goes April showers bring May flowers, and grass, and leaves, and all sorts of verdant vegetation. In the summer the forest would get so dense that you could barely see the house from the road and the driveway would turn into a green tunnel – a major selling point for my father I believe. Summer months were spent mowing grass and generally trying to beat back the landscape from reclaiming the yard. Rain showers were a frequent event and “drought” was generally a foreign concept.

For the past fifteen years I’ve resided west of the Continental Divide, mostly in what is known as the arid West. I still remember driving into the Sacramento Valley for the first time as mountain pine forests gave way to barren foothills of yellowed grass gone to hay and the hardened black oaks that seemed so sparse compared to the dense Maine woods where my drive had begun. In this new environment the number of seasons seemed to decrease from four to two. The wet season and the dry season. I quickly realized the need for irrigation as I nuked the lawn in a matter of a few hot July days. Water I learned was the lifeblood of the landscape and it came sparingly.

Over time I’ve come to realize that spring and fall still exist in the high desert, they are just more nuanced. In the Intermountain West spring is the most dramatic albeit short lived. After long months of dry seemingly dormant hills, spring always seems to make a surprise arrival. Spurred by the right amount of moisture and heat, one always seems to wake up one morning to the site of verdant green hills. First the sage begins to bloom, with bunch grasses soon to follow. Then comes the cycle of wildflowers as arrowleaf balsamroot, lupin, and bachelors button bloom adding varying colors to the green sea. As the weeks progress the grasses take their turn with wild rye and bottlebrush squirell-tail growing taller and taller. Finally without notice the rains stop, the temperatures rise, and the hills color pallet fades to gold.

The fleeting nature of spring in the West makes me appreciate it that much more. I begin to look for signs of its coming arrival. Less in anticipation of the transition from winter to summer, but for the season itself. I try my best to sleuth out its arrival by watching temperatures rise, and the snowline recede, looking between last season’s hay for signs of new sprouts. Inevitably though spring seems to arrive like Christmas – suddenly and with excitement. 

When the first days of spring do arrive and I look out the window to see those green hills, I lace up my shoes and hit the trails. I try to spend as much time as I can out there soaking up the smells of sage, the sight of a flower blanketed hill side, and the coolness of knee-high grasses. No matter how long the run or steep the ride, it’s pretty hard not to smile in your surroundings. Day after day I try and get out and enjoy the spring landscape, because without warning I know I’ll step out my front door to see hills that are, well….brown.

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