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Dry River Canyon, January 27, 2012

winter walk in dry river canyon,
a sweet aroma—I can’t name
the bushes

The walking was not strenuous and the afternoon was pleasant although where we stopped for lunch the canyon’s shadow crept across us and the air immediately felt colder. Continuing along the narrow trail, I wondered that I had not noticed the aroma of juniper or sagebrush and speculated whether the dry air made a difference. Farther along, I saw unfamiliar bushes with rough trunks and tiny leaves in the same area where I noticed a sweet fragrance like sugar and violets. After another three-quarters hour or so of fairly steady climbing, the canyon widened into a broad bowl with high straight sides where you could feel a change, the air cooler and more humid. It was like entering an open air cave with a tantalizing fragrance of moist earth and plants. The cliffs rose several hundred feet and were plastered with bright green and orange lichens. I stopped, savoring each breath, my mind picking at the earthy aromas. Overhead, a single jet trail crossed the blue sky and a silver sliver of moon hung just above the canyon rim. Beyond this damp valley, the stony trail entered a small forest of the rough-barked sweet-scented bushes and, emerging from this brushy tunnel, what stopped me in my tracks was one sagebrush, silvery leafed and taller than me. The ground surrounding the sagebrush-tree was covered with bright green moss.

What is the name of the sweetly fragrant shrub? (I’m certain I will recognize the scent when I encounter it again even without a label.)

Dry River Canyon east of Bend, Oregon is closed February 1 through August 31. See BLM web site for geological history and closure information.