Grasslands

Bunchgrass: the Trail-maker and Philosopher

I promised some thoughts on ecology today. I’ll post them tomorrow. To keep the intricacy of environment in mind, here’s a photograph of a clump of bunchgrass. Of the millions I have seen, this is the only one (so far) that has done this. It gave me pause. Have a look.

To help you, the line that has separated the bunchgrass in two is a change in aspect of a slope. Below that line it is twice as steep as it is above it.Seemingly, the sagebrush within the bunchgrass has held the upper strands vertical, while allowing the lower ones to fall with the slope (as expected.) For some reason, the sagebrush has chosen that lip of a slope to grow, possibly because the grass anchored its seed. It’s intriguing, however, how the edge of the slope is also the trail of a small rodent, likely a meadow vole, which cuts right across the middle of the image, right across the lip of the slope, and right through the middle of the bunchgrass. Now, if you’re a vole, you can put your trail anywhere, pretty much, as long as there is cover, and as you can see above, there’s cover everywhere. Yet here it is. Note as well, and again you can’t readily see this, from the bottom right of the image, in a crescent around the bunch-grass sagebrush-twin, there is a deer trail, going up-slope. The deer are not going to go through this tangle (although stepping over it would be an option, they don’t do that either), although the vole (?) doesn’t mind. The constant is the bunchgrass, which switches energy from an “around” phase to a “through” phase, amplified by a “catch” phase (the sagebrush seed) and then embodies the results. That’s a pretty powerful opening and closing of energy! Even the marmots obey.

Chance? Well, not precisely, because it happens over and over in different relationships. With grass (and trails)…

… and old rock (and trails)…

… and newly-exposed rock (and trails)…

In each case, the grass either catches or shelters, and trails are determined by the mass of the combination. How beautiful is that!

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