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Lead Summary

HCP columnist

We traveled west this past week to visit our children, and by west, I mean far west.

It was wonderful to spend time with our young’uns, to laugh over old adventures and share some new.

I know in my heart that it does not matter where we are when we catch up together, home at the creek or off in the world.

The young’uns will always be our young’uns.

But on this westward visit, I realized once again that I am never too old to learn. I came across an entity that I had never met before, the tumbleweed.

We were driving across a vast stretch of desert.

All that I really knew of desert land was from watching old cowboy movies, and a small television screen does not do the endless horizon justice.

It seemed at first that the rolling plains had no detail, until I narrowed my view and took my eyes off of the horizon.

Then I saw that the desert did have detail. Silver grass blew in the endless wind.

Dark green juniper trees, dotting the land here and there, bent the same way as the grass. Swirling dust devils danced around the low shrub juniper far off in the distance.

The wind, we heard from local folk, was blowing a steady 25 to 35 miles an hour and was gusting up to 55.

I had noticed for the past hundreds of miles that the sides of the two-lane road were lined with a wire fence.

It seemed odd, a two-lane road with a 70 mile an hour speed limit, but with not a bend in the road or another car in sight, I suppose that it made sense.

The fence, I imagined, was to keep cattle off the road.

Every 10 miles or so, we would see groups of perhaps 15 cattle, scattered far apart, heads down, grazing on the silver blowing grass.

Then, the first tumbleweed rolled across the road ahead of us. I watched as it caught on the fence. It almost seemed to be alive as it tried to climb up over the fence and roll on into the vastness beyond.

We drove on and then more and more tumbleweeds began to roll by. Fascinated, we stopped, and I got out of the car to catch one. I walked over to the roadside fence where the tumbleweeds were piled four or five deep, almost waist-high.

Every now and then, one would roll up over the top of the others and bounce up over the fence, to tumble off into the desert beyond.

I bent down and picked up a perfectly spherical one. It was about two feet in diameter. I turned it over in my hands as the wind tried to pull it away. It was the color of silver driftwood and as light as a feather. It looked like a dried, dead bush whose leaves had fallen off.

I learned, however, that this dried tumbling is actually a part of the tumbleweed’s life cycle, and that once mature, they break off from their roots and roll along to disperse their seeds.

I was determined to take a picture of this particular tumbleweed. I set it down on the ground and stood back. It rolled away. I followed it and picked it up again.

I decided to stand upwind from the tumbleweed, to block the wind so it would not roll away from me, and I set it down again in front of me.

Again, it rolled away. I looked back at Greg. He was smiling, but said not a word.

I waited until the wind died down a bit and tried again, standing upwind and placing the tumbleweed at my feet as I quickly raised my camera, only to watch it blow away for the third time.

Then, it occurred to me. I needed to stand downwind, and physically block the tumbleweed with my feet so it would not blow away. I looked over at Greg with a knowing nod. I finally had this figured out.

I turned to face the wind and lay the tumbleweed, not at my feet, but actually on my shoes. I could feel it try to work its way around me so I widened my feet a bit and felt it nestle securely in between my ankles.

I finally had it cornered, and it posed just perfectly so. I happily took several photos of it against the background of the dry desert earth and my hiking shoes.

So now you know, if you ever happen to be crossing the desert and chance upon a tumbleweed just rolling along, it is possible to get it to stop rolling for just a moment and to pose for a photo, unless, of course, you want to provide continuing entertainment for any nearby observers.

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at

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