What does "dead sage" mean in the following context?

Since then I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves. I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn. Such a mountain looks as if someone had given God a new pruning shears, and forbidden Him all other exercise. In the end the starved bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of the dead sage, or molder under the high-lined junipers.

ُThinking Like a Mountain

closed as off-topic by Hellion, ab2, Cascabel, tchrist Feb 2 '17 at 23:13

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    It is short for sagebrush, a plant on which deer graze. The absence of wolves, who prey on deer, causes the deer population to explode. They then eat everything there is to eat (overgraze). The deer then starve because there is nothing to eat. Wolves, vegetation, deer - all gone. The bones of the sage are the dried, dead stems of the once-living bushes. – ab2 Feb 2 '17 at 20:59
  • If you are practicing your English, I suggest finding a piece less overwrought and overwritten. – choster Feb 2 '17 at 21:09
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    @choster I am not "practicing" my English. This is a text that I want to understand. It is a very significant text in the history of environmental thought. – Sasan Feb 2 '17 at 21:13

Perhaps it is the vegetation described in the following web pages:

California native sages

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: San Diego

According to that latter page, "Coastal sage scrub is comprised of low, soft-woody subshrubs, generally no higher than three feet (one meter)."

Under pressure to explain how these plants could be bony, I resort to desperate measures. Maybe the author uses the term "sage" as some sort of indirect reference to the sage grouse or some other animal that lives around sage?

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    When a bush is dead, the dried stems remain. These are "the bones" of the once living shrub. – ab2 Feb 2 '17 at 21:03
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    @ab2 While the literal meaning is to refer to the shrub, there is an intended secondary meaning of a wise man who is dead that the sentence is meant to evoke for mood. – ohwilleke Feb 2 '17 at 21:29

It's impossible to say without more context (is there some sage, i.e. wise man, who is mentioned earlier?).

However, it looks to be a particularly graphic description of withered sage, the plant—Salvia officinalis—commonly used as a cooking herb.

This would make sense as it's in parallel with "juniper" in the next part of the sentence.

  • @Chaim No sage mentioned earlier in the text. Though, a way of thinking is implied. So, sage here doesn't mean a wise man/woman but means a kind of plant? Then, is is common to talk of bones for plants? – Sasan Feb 2 '17 at 19:16
  • @Chaim I added the link to the entire text. – Sasan Feb 2 '17 at 19:33
  • Yeah, I agree that bony plants are novel, I don't have a further suggestion yet.. – Chaim Feb 2 '17 at 19:34
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    @Jooya -- I've never seen sage plants in person, but it's not uncommon to talk of "the bones" of a dead plant, after most of the foliage has fallen off, leaving only bare, white stalks. It's an obvious metaphor. – Hot Licks Feb 2 '17 at 19:36
  • I again edited my answer. – Chaim Feb 2 '17 at 19:52

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