Rabbits taught me that each sagebrush has a unique voice. I often take long walks across the steppes in Thacker Pass. It’s not uncommon to spy a rabbit – with one floppy ear pointed one way and one another – peeking out of the tangles of sagebrush branches.
Today, as I wandered across the basin floor, I asked Thacker Pass aloud if she wanted to talk with me today. As the words were pulled from my mouth by a strong, cold north wind, a rabbit sprang from bushes at my feet, throwing snow up with his strong back legs. I followed his tracks as long as I could until they crossed an exposed patch of dirt where the sun had thinned the powder. I dropped to my hands and knees to study the dirt for the imprint of rabbit feet. The wind blew with a gust.
And, that’s when I heard them.
The sage surrounding me reached towards the sun to let the wind wash through their branches and leaves. I was transfixed by the fragrant melodies formed in the frictions between sage and wind. I do not know for how many measures I knelt there listening to the unmetered chorus sung in keys no human singer can achieve swirling around me.
Eventually, I opened my eyes to find myself looking at the rabbit’s tracks a few yards away. As I crawled along the rabbit’s path, different sections of ensemble rose and fell. I realized that each individual sagebrush with its own specific pattern of leaves, specific orientation to the wind, and specific structure of branches contributed its own sonic hues to the masterpiece.
As I leaned my head towards the heart of the closest sagebrush, the sunshine fell through the clouds and the sagebrush’s twisting limbs. I recognized the sun as the great conductor of this symphony. I saw how the sagebrush grew towards the falling photons while intentionally choosing the specific patterns, orientations, and structures that, with the help of the wind, would create the most enchanting sounds.
It was the most fascinating song I’ve ever heard.
Finally, the wind touched my bones and reminded me that my blood would only remain warm on the exposed steppes for so long. As I rose from my crouch, I spotted the rabbit hiding under an ancient, thickly knotted sagebrush. He made eye contact with me, straightened his ears for a moment, and then settled back into the auditory rapture I had just emerged from.
Image by Max Wilbert
Will Falk is a DGR member, lawyer for the natural world and is currently in direct action to protect Thacker Pass. He has also journeyed in conversation with the Ohio River. You can read about Will’s journey with the Ohio River here.