From my window, I watch an antelope brush, tossing in the wind. It’s a big shrub, maybe six feet high, with black and twisted branches. It’s hot here in the southern tip of the Okanagan Valley. Hot and windy. It doesn’t rain a lot. A less defiant plant would wither. But the antelope brush holds its ground, digs deep into the rocky earth, finds moisture, survives.
The south Okanagan is also home to a community of bugs, birds, bats, badgers, butterflies, snakes and scorpions–many endangered or threatened. Some are rarely glimpsed, by anyone, while others appear regularly in our backyard: gopher snakes sunbathe in our rock garden; rattlesnakes slither across our lawn; meadowlarks sing from our fence posts. A desert bat is apparently fond of this part of the valley, too: the pallid bat, a cream-colored creature with huge ears. I’ve never seen it, but I imagine it’s here.
I look out over a chunk of bleached wilderness–antelope brush and prickly pear cactus, bunch grass and sage–a hardscrabble landscape that feels ancient, eternal. But in May, when the antelope brush blooms, its yellow flowers glitter in the sun, hinting of impermanence: land like this is disappearing fast.
The grassland is losing ground to vineyards, to orchards, to houses. Our vineyard backs up against one of the few remaining stretches of undeveloped native grassland in the valley–one of the most endangered ecosystems in Canada, so vulnerable that the federal government has proposed creating a new national park in southern British Columbia.
Each spring, we collect seeds from the antelope brush. We’ve planted hundreds on our land. They don’t ask for much, a little water when they’re young. I understand you can buy antelope brush in four-inch pots from certain nurseries. I look at the wind-battered shrub near my house and an image comes to mind of a shopper, some place far from here, selecting an antelope brush and taking it home to a manicured landscape where it clings to life, a relic from the grasslands.