Piñon Pine Nuts:  Pulse of the Land

Only after the last tree has been cut down, Only after the last river has been poisoned, Only after the last fish has been caught, Only then will you find money cannot be eaten.
~ Cree Prophecy

On my homestead in the Colorado high country, the main tree is tpinon foresthe Piñon Pine interspersed with a smattering of juniper and, along the creek, some big willow-leaf cottonwoods.  Truth be told, until a few years ago I never made the connection between these tough, short trees that dominate the dry southwest landscape in Colorado, Utah, and New MexicoPinyon-nuts_2 - Copy—over 36 million acres of them–and delectable, pricey pine nuts.  The best pine nuts are actually the seeds of the Colorado Piñon Pine (Pinus edulis).  Shelled, they go for about $36 a pound!!  A lot of what is pawned off as pine nuts in the grocery store comes from…surprise…China!!  

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The Pleasures of Grass

Ah, the pleasures of grass!!

GOTCHA!!  All you baby boomers out there of course thought this piece was going to be about that recreational drug of our youth, especially since I am in Colorado where marijuana is legal.  But no, I am writing to sing the praises of that broad plant family called grass that has thrived this year around my cabin thanks to all the rain.  Almost a dozen species have created a beautiful, luxuriant undulating sea on the slopes down to the creek.  Three of my favorites are mountain brome, blue grama, and Indian rice grass—each distinctive and fascinating.

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As I drive up the country road to my cabin, the gravel track narrows, bracketed by a thick stand of gigantic Bromus maginatus, a species of grass known commonly as mountain brome . The plant books say this perennial grass grows to four feet, but these giants tower over me as I get out to inspect their heads waving in the breeze.  The nodding tassels have bunches of 5-10 bristle-tipped tiny yellow flowers.  The leaves are long and a little hairy. Mountain brome is native to western North America, and cattle love it as do other grazing animals including mountain sheep and deer.  Birds and rodents savor it also.  Farmers and ranchers value it because it can tolerate drought, and its shallow root system is good for erosion control.  But here in the subalpine wilds where it is native among the sage and rabbitbrush, mountain brome likes moister areas best.  The little niche where this stand has flourished flooded back in June when the nearby creek spilled over into the meadow along the road providing the perfect habitat, an odd oasis in this high-mountain desert that gets barely a foot of moisture in an average year.

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