Other Pastures

Foxtail Barley, Rapid City SD

We could tell even before we landed that South Dakota was unusually green compared to the unbroken drab tan of past summer visits. They are way ahead of normal (while southwest Virginia is 25% behind.)

So there were things blooming we had never seen before, and most I’ll not get out to see, identify or photograph.

Forunately, one homeowner has landscaped his yard in what comes up naturally and I was able to find this beautiful grass we’d seen on the trip in. I went back this morning while the winds were relatively calm for a snapshot. I could tell it was a foxtail (one of the few grasses I know) and then identify it as “foxtail barley”.  This, from the Lewis and Clark expedition when Hordeum jubatum was first collected in the US.

“there is a species of wild rye which is now heading it rises to the hight of 18 or 20 inches, the beard is remarkably fine and soft it is a very handsome grass; the culm is jointed and is in every rispect the wild rye in minuture…” Frederick Pursh, the German botanist who annotated some of the Lewis and Clark plant specimens, wrote on the label, “ Calld the golden or Silken Rye. On the white bear Islands on the Missouri. Jul. 12th 1806.”

So this might represent the sum total of all my outdoor photography for this trip. Ah well. It’s not why we came.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Foxtail barley is lovely stuff, and there is nothing quite like a big field of it, all pink and silver and green at dawn, especially with a good wind blowing. There are huge acreages of organic barley here, all of it contracted out to local breweries who prefer the good old fashioned kind – no pesticides or chemical fertilizers and no genetic modification either. I love the stuff.