Story by Kristen Ballinger

I grew up fifty yards away from a steep, dry, sagebrush and bitterbrush-covered mountain, home to rattlesnakes, coyotes, deer ticks and even a rusting 1950s washing machine.  And I loved it.  Scrambling or jogging up “the hill” was an adventure into the wild, beautiful, adult-free world.

Last year, I was pretty far away at college, and when cabin fever kicked in I told stories about my sagebrush-covered back yard.  Most of my friends liked nature.  But just why this nearly-desert ecosystem captured my heart was hard to explain to them.  Their close encounters with the outdoors were in wetter parts of the world – waterfalls, lush green parks, or National Park scenery so astounding that advertising agencies use it to sell SUVs.  What was so special about a relatively barren hill?

It’s hard to imagine how tree-less, brown hills can be beautiful until you have watched the grass bend and rise in a strong wind like waves in a muted inland sea.  Or slept in the back yard on an August night, and woken to hear the haunting yelps of coyotes drifting down over a deceptively suburban scene.  Even the smell of sagebrush stings the nose a bit at first – only after years of bringing it home on my fingers and jeans did I start to enjoy the sharp tang.

The harshness –really, the wildness – of the Jacobsen property makes its beauty elusive.  You have to search for the tiny, exquisite blue-eyed Mary flowers, hidden among the bunch grass.  Only after an afternoon of sweating through scratchy, dry grass can you appreciate the luxury of shade and moss at a tiny snowmelt-fed ravine.

The crucial element in the sagebrush’s beauty, which I just couldn’t express to my far-away friends, was that I had experienced it. How lucky we are to live in a place where nature can still be loved and lived in as wilderness.

They will probably never film a car commercial on our hill. Still, as long as people can climb up it, play around and get to know it personally, I’m sure it will be well loved, and well protected.

This story first appeared in the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust newsletter. We thought it beautifully written and poignant and asked for her permission to publish it here as well.It was originally published on our website on 8/6/09.

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