Black Sage

One of the loveliest aromas I know is black sage after a rain, but how can you describe a fragrance? With similes, but black sage after a rain really ONLY smells like black sage after a rain.

It doesn’t grow here in Colorado. Its range is limited to Baja California and Southern California.

In 1984, I moved from Colorado to California. I didn’t want to move to California, and didn’t like it all that much most of the time, but here’s the thing. Even here, living in Heaven, I sometimes dream of those sere Southern California hills and their magic, and, sometimes (shhhh don’t tell anyone) I want to go back. I know that going back isn’t just a matter of getting on a jet and renting a car at a distant airport. There’s a bit of time travel involved.

Well, here goes, the fragrance of black sage.

It’s January. Still a month before the rattlesnakes and their babies come out in force to hunt around Valentine’s Day. It rained through the night, a real thunderstorm, and the world is wet, a magic thing in that desert place. You drive down Fairmount, under the freeway and connect to Mission Gorge Road where you turn right. You go west on Mission Gorge to Fr. Junipero Sera Trail where you turn left. This road is fun, windy and fast until the place becomes a park, but since we’re on an imaginary journey, lets say it’s not a park yet. You get to the Old Mission Dam Parking lot and park. You let Truffle and Molly out of the back seat of your Peugeot 505 sti (you don’t have your truck yet) and keep them leashed until you cross the bridge away from the dam area where people are often found. Then you let the dogs run free.

They charge off in a rush of dog joy ahead of you on the trail. You wrap their leashes over your shoulder and adjust your pack that contains only water, an orange, a granola bar and a yogurt container for the dogs to drink from.

You walk through the small ravine cut by the seasonal stream that empties into the San Diego River. In January it has water in it, and Truffle — a mix of a couple of water dogs, Labrador and Springer spaniel — is “fishing,” the white tip of her tail waving in joy.

Truffle swimming in the January ravine, black sage growing between the rocks

Molly stays with you most of the time, occasionally catching a scent and chasing it. Molly — Malamute and Australian shepherd — is a master hunter who has come back to you with a bunny butt hanging from her mouth. More than once she’s gone off with the coyotes in the darkness and returned, unable to tell her stories.

Truffle and Molly

As they run, they brush against the sage — black and white — and the air is redolent. The black sage is more common on the scrubby looking slopes, but the white sage is what the Indians use to purify spaces. You sometimes pick a branch or two to burn in your car.

Low clouds drifting in from the ocean climb the slopes, so close you can reach into them, walk through them, small patches of moving fog. When you reach the top of the hill — mountain, the world is green. You climb up to the top of the rock. Truffle and Molly join you. You pour them some water, take the orange out of your pack, peel it, suck on the juicy sections and watch the light play over the ocean, breaking through the shaggy remnants of last night’s storm.

That’s black sage after a rain.

Salvia mellifera. Salvia mellifera (black sage) is a small, highly aromatic, evergreen shrub of the genus Salvia (the sages) native to California, and Baja California, Mexico”

My Friend, Spike

I’d like you to meet Spike.

Coast Horned Lizard - Mission Creek 1


Spike is a California Coastal horned lizard. Hiking in the coastal chaparral of San Diego, I often caught a glimpse of Spike, and I think I picked him up once or twice. I like him a LOT. As you can see, he’s not easy to see (ha ha). That’s because Spike has a lot of predators, including scorpions. Spike is a furtive little fellow out of necessity. In different places — depending on the color of the dirt and the kinds of rocks about, Spike might have slightly different coloration.

I named all of them Spike. It was fun to be hiking along, catch sight of him on the edge of the bushes, and say, “Hi, Spike! Be careful out there!” Once I even picked up a tiny baby Spike. He was one of the cutest little critters I’ve ever seen.

Hike in Storms — An Offer Accepted. Circular Rainbow

Daily Prompt Race the Clock Here’s the title of your post: “An Offer I Couldn’t Refuse.” Set a timer for ten minutes, and write it. Go!

The place was completely empty except for the woman and her dog, a big dog but not one of those giant dogs like an Irish wolfhound or something, just a big shaggy gray and white dog with brown eyes, no tail and a smile on her face. Dogs smile. Don’t give me that, and this one had, for her nickname, “Smiler.”

From time to time the sky poured buckets, but that was one of the motivations that had brought them out here. Rain kept most people away. The woman loved the rain because it didn’t happen often and it made rapid changes to the landscape that she loved to watch, to be in. She had a circuit visiting small waterfalls and tiny flowers. The black sage threw its fragrance into the air. She thought about what she’d been told about Indians wearing the sage in their armpits so the deer wouldn’t smell them coming,

“I think that would work, Molly.”

Molly continued to smile, but “Smiler” sometimes did talk. It was well known that once she’d even said, “Hello.”

“Let’s go up there, OK? You want to go to the top?”

Like her owner, Molly always wanted to go to the top, even though on a day like today there wouldn’t be much of a view. They were about a third of the way up the steep fire trail under the electric wires when the sky cut loose. “Hey Molly, we’re fucked!” Molly shook out her fur and smiled. They sat down on a rocky promontory to wait out the blast of rain.

Storms like these in Southern California came in waves. One could even see them coming in the distance and judge from their width how long they’d last. After three or four minutes, the shower had moved on. The sun came out from a crack between clouds. Just at the moment she looked up, there in front of her, so close she could have touched it were it not a phenomenon of light and water, was a perfect circle of color.

“Thank you,” she said to the turbulent sky, the dark green hills, the red dirt, the fragrant plants, to the rain that returned.


Black Sage in Bloom