Sunday, September 23, 2007

Range nuggets

By Kevin Duling

A range nugget is defined as an individual who gleefully points out errors people make regarding range plant identification or anything else regarding rangeland and can successfully interpret any rangeland publication put out by either the US Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management.

My friend and I used to joke about people we deemed as range nuggets. In our rangeland college courses we would take field trips and be introduced to many people who could tell you everything about any plant on the range. In the scientific realm, no self-respecting range scientist would dare speak in the common language.

Cheat grass was not called cheat grass and thistles were not called thistles. Not only could these specialists tell you the genus and species terms for each plant, they could rattle off the family name of the plant, the origin, the current location, which countries the plant was found in, and if it was known to heal cancer.

While my friend and I were both impressed by these range mavericks, we were equally amused at why anyone would spend that much time learning these trivial things. In one of our college courses, we were forced to learn 150 range plants. We didn’t do it because we wanted to; we did it because we had to.

The family name and genus species have both changed for many range plants several times since we graduated college. The saying goes for the people whose job it is to name all the plants, “When you’ve named everything there is to name; rename things or you will be out of a job.”

When I was in college, all grass families had recently been changed. We were fortunate to get to learn the new ones. Since then, they have changed again. Bluebunch wheatgrass, which used to be known as Agropyron Spicatum, is now known as Pseudoroegneria Spicata. Obviously, the latter is much simpler and easier to communicate than the first.

Perhaps these name makers are making things so much more difficult that things will have to be renamed again. That should mean at least four good years of employment I would think.

My uncle, who is now a retired doctor, was famous for dazzling everyone when the family would go for a hike together. He could spew every genus and species name of every wildflower we stumbled across. The family would keep moving as my father and he would be in heated debate over a small purple flower one of the ladies spotted.

Typically, we would not see Dad or my uncle again for the rest of the hike. Occasionally, we would spot them, their heads looking down with a hand on their chin, with the lure of the correct scientific name as the goal.

In no way could my uncle be construed as a range nugget. He knew four languages, traveled over seas many times, and could heal many sicknesses just by looking at us and telling us to go home and eat a certain vegetable.

I recall a warm fall day in the Deschutes basin. With the crop seeded and the equipment put to bed for the winter, it was time to go for a hike. The dew soaked sage and juniper smelled wonderful. It was peaceful walking by the numerous fishermen as they cast their fly upon the aquamarine water in hopes of a passing steelhead.

On the trail, I stumbled across an older married couple who were sipping water from their canteen. I smiled and greeted them with the typical “How is your morning?” They responded by stating how pretty the sagebrush was that time of year.

I replied back, “Actually, the brush that is in bloom is grey rabbitbrush, also known as Chrysothamnus Nauseosis. The big sage, which in this area is Artemisia Tridentata Tridentata, blooms in the spring. At the higher elevations in good soil, you may find some big mountain sage, which is known as Artemisia Tridentata Wyomingensis.”

With a slight glare of annoyance, the couple thanked me for the uninvited information and went on their way. About a half mile down the trail, I stopped dead in my tracks with a moment of realization: I had become a range nugget.

Kevin Duling is a wheat farmer and freelance writer from Maupin, Ore. His stories will be posted on the Capital Press blog every Friday. Comments are welcomed at

1 comment:

threecollie said...

Great post, I love it! We have 'em here too even without the range...and it is oh, so, easy to fall into the trap of being one.

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