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Dry River Canyon, Oregon

Lustrous and windblown, blended silver, blue and aquamarine, gleaming with feathery flowing stems — these words from Edward Abbey’s book Desert Solitaire are the bones of a passage filled with surprises, from the name (“sand sage or old man sage”) to aspects of color (lustrous, gleaming), to time as movement (windblown) and “feathery stems flowing like hair.” Consider the shift of views, from the ambiguity of distance to the closeup of a fingernail and the moment when sage crushed “between thumb and finger” releases its “pungent and bittersweet” scent:

“Sand sage or old man sage, a lustrous windblown blend of silver and blue and aquamarine, gleams in the distance, the feathery stems flowing like hair. Purple flowers no bigger than our fingernail are half-revealed, half-concealed by the shining leaves. Purple sage: crush the leaves between thumb and finger and you release that characteristic odor, pungent and bittersweet, which means canyon country, high lonesome mesaland, the winds that blow from far away.” (Edward Abbey)

The merging of “winds that blow from far away” and the privateness of breathing — the scent of crushed sage “pungent and bittersweet” — tantalizes and lingers in the imagination, as evanescent as breath and yet the essence of canyon land and mesas, a remote and mysterious beyond.


Edward Abbey. Desert Solitaire, A Season in the Wilderness. New York: Ballantine Books, 1978 (31).

Photo from Katie Eberhart’s personal photo library.