Not Afraid of the Dark

7I9A1655

Honestly, I can hardly believe this photograph turned out so well.  It is magic.  Rob and I had been hunting all day and when we arrived back at camp, I looked out at the moonrise and the delicate palate of the sunset in the sky and I had a vision.   I set up my camera and remote and literally galloped out across the sand dunes to get this photograph.

The moon.  My friend.  I have no reason to fear the dark.

We have been in New Mexico for nearly two weeks, hunting quail and being a family and camping and living rough and working our beautiful, steadfast dogs in incredible country.  It is the joy of my heart to be here.  The joy of my heart.  I think it’s because it is the joy of my heart, truly, that I was able to make a photograph like this (and many more that I look forward to sharing with you).  I believe in creating from the light, from joy, from emotions that are rooted in beauty.  It is from those places I experience a true welling up of originality.

More soon.

X

PS

I just had a hot shower for the first time in nine days and it was SUBLIME.

Edge Season

7I9A98657I9A9880 7I9A98937I9A98957I9A99117I9A99327I9A99377I9A99807I9A99457I9A01057I9A00327I9A01627I9A01357I9A00897I9A01967I9A0216I really like the weather in these edge seasons of high desert Idaho when the air and wind are deadly cold but the sun is gaining strength and heat — the feeling of it all pressed up against my cheeks while we are out hiking or running is simply one of the best feelings of all.  To be kissed by the sun and cut by the wind, simultaneously.  There’s nothing like it.

We went out yesterday under such a magnificent sky.  It gets foggy in the high desert during the winter months and the mantle has lifted!  We’ve been gifted with such bright days this week.  There’s a sense of coming alive all over the land.  The deer are beginning to drop their winter burdens.  I expect to hear a meadowlark any day now — last year, around this time, I heard the first one in the sagebrush above the riverbank here.  They always signal a seasonal shift for me.  I cherish their music.

I can sense it all stirring, waking, rubbing at sleepy eyes.

Along the roads and deer paths I run, the sage is coming back, fragrant and soft.  I run my hands over it as I pass through it and then lift my fingers to my face and breathe a little deeper.  Is there a greater, more soulful scent than the sagebrush of the interior West?  Maybe the perfume of an entire slope of wild rose in bloom.  That’s lovely, too.

Rob is starting early season work in the southeast (Arkansas, Tennessee, et al) sooner than ever this year.  The off-season seems to get shorter with the passing years as he goes deeper and higher with his job.  We’re savoring our last moments together as a little family before the fire season busts us up for a bit.  And no, we don’t know where we’ll be living or where I’ll be working or any of that stuff.  As usual.  Being a firewire is to exist in a kind of information less purgatory; I live a very last minute life.  But we always prevail and something pseudo-suitable always turns up in the way of housing and studio space.  I’ve quit worrying about it.  Things will shake out how they will, they always do.

I have enough projects and travels to keep me active and busy this spring (I cannot wait to share some of those details with you), but I’ll still miss Robbie when he goes.  We’ve done a lot of growing and shedding of old selves this winter.  All the change and growth has been rooted in truth, in realizing the things about our individual selves that we’d like to work on, and then simply working on those things and rewiring our hearts and minds, dropping bad habits and lighting new fires in our hearts.  I’ve loved this winter.  This winter with him.

He’s been building me a hotbed!  It’s kinda state of the art, you’d expect nothing less from him though, would you?  I can hardly wait to get it planted.  I have my seeds coming in the mail as I type this.  Maybe they’ll arrive today!

 

 

The Bob

I had a wild summer.  It’s strange that I’m only starting to share some of these photos with you now, in the waning days of January, but things take as long as they take (and I have the most dependable WIFI I have had in a long while so I can actually get images uploaded for you — hallelujah).

The short of it is this:  I spent a week on the back of a hilariously stubborn, thistle-chomping Haflinger  while riding 80+ miles into the heart of the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Montana (I abated the stubbornness with a little willow switch).  One of my dearest friends was with me and we had a blast choking on the dust kicked up by the full string of mules we were riding behind, freezing to death on the first day which involved 21 miles of rain after un-sleeping in a haunted Forest Service cabin, fishing the pristine waters of the Southfork of the Flathead River, and generally being spoiled rotten by our hosts, guides and friends (you’ll know them as @muledragger and @bigskybandits on the old Instagram machine).  I shot most of the trip from the back of my bumpy and delightful horse with my x100t — it shoots pretty soft so if you notice a difference in the feel of these photos, that’s the reason why.

The entire trip was terrible for my already acute case of horse-fever.  While I’ve always dreamed of having a pack mule for mountain trips and high country hunts, I walked away from this backcountry horseback trip with such a rich respect for the hybrid.  They are truly such wonderful, stout, complex creatures.  A joy to behold and to know.  And boy howdy, when you reach your fingers down into their big, beautiful ears to give them a scritchy scratch and they lean in and drop their enormous heads down on your shoulder and forget their size and weight because they’re too busy feeling mule ecstasy…well, it’s a pretty darn magical thing to experience.  Our libraries need more books about the solid love of good mules.

Without further adieu, I give you the Bob Marshall Wilderness and a smattering of humans, horses and mules in the fat heart of summer.  Enjoy!

DSCF1209 DSCF1210 DSCF1219 DSCF1227 DSCF1232 DSCF1241 DSCF1243 DSCF1248 DSCF1270 DSCF1282 DSCF1301 DSCF1314 DSCF1318 DSCF1330 DSCF1336 DSCF1387 DSCF1399 IMG_3709-2 IMG_3719 IMG_3725 IMG_3726 IMG_3739-2 IMG_3745 IMG_3747-2 IMG_3762-2 IMG_3775-2 IMG_3780 IMG_3799 IMG_3844-2 IMG_3848-2 IMG_3852 IMG_3864-2 IMG_3876 IMG_3884 IMG_3889-2 IMG_3896 IMG_3899 IMG_3921 IMG_3963-2 IMG_3973 IMG_3976 IMG_3977 IMG_3983-2 IMG_3984-2 IMG_3995 IMG_4017-2 IMG_4058 IMG_4079-2 IMG_4099-2 IMG_4125 IMG_4161 IMG_4184 IMG_4196 IMG_4221 IMG_4235 IMG_4243 IMG_4345 IMG_4359 IMG_4383 IMG_4389 IMG_4409 IMG_4414 IMG_4475 IMG_4505 IMG_4556 IMG_4580 IMG_4614 IMG_4622 IMG_4629 IMG_4632 IMG_4669 IMG_4675 IMG_4678 IMG_4704 IMG_4739 IMG_4741

 

Pacific Pacific

7I9A8956 7I9A8962 7I9A8971 7I9A8991 7I9A8993 7I9A9002 7I9A9010 7I9A9028 7I9A9031 7I9A9052 7I9A9091 7I9A9146 7I9A9179 7I9A9182 7I9A91887I9A9212I don’t trust the ocean.  But I like to look at it and notice the way it reacts to the sky.  Every passing moment brings a change in light.  The water is a mirror for the cosmos to look down into.

————————————————-

My friend’s husband (who is also my friend) told us he had a surprise for us.  We were nervous about it because he likes to shock people (though he is very excellent at crafting wonderful surprises, too) and so we asked for hints and our dialogue over a few days went something like this:

“Can you give us a hint?”

“There’s going to be a buffalo.”

“Should we wear something specific?  Will it be hot or cold?”

“What you have on would be fine.”

“Wait.  Will we need goggles?”

“Sure.  You could wear goggles.  You could wear a bikini, too.”

“What?!!  Where are we going?”

“It’s a surprise!”

We had no idea what on earth was in store for us and we were very afraid and imagining all kinds of terrible and weird things.  Finally, en route to our surprise, he turned our truck towards a little airport in the San Diego area and she and I looked at each other and I yelled out:

“OH MY GOSH.  WE ARE GOING TO FLY TO CATALINA TO SEE THE BISON HERD!!!”

My friend and I proceeded to scream our heads off and jump around in our truck seats and he was delighted because no matter their age, boys always love to make girls scream.  He was smiling enormously when he said, “Yes.  You are correct.

So she and I bounced around some more and hollered and whooped and grinned at each other and gave each other high fives and said, “Happy Birthday!!!”  Because it’s always one of our birthdays when we see each other and this was too nice a gift to be fluttering around and not attached to something special.

And we looked at him and told him it was a very good surprise, indeed.

We loaded up into a little orange and white Beechcraft Duchess and took off into the sky.  The fog was too thick and so we changed our plans slightly.  Instead of zooming out to Catalina Island to see the bison we flew up and down the coastline and marveled at the color of the ocean and the sun on the water and the light mingling with clouds and the hue of the surf running to shore and the mud of the insidious riptides pulling the sand out from beneath the break.  I looked at the millions of people below us fading away into specs until they were out of reach and out of sight and we were resting in that wild, unruly place between the Earth and the stars.

From there, we cruised inland, up and over the piney mountains and into the crumpled, thirsty plains of the desert.  We landed on the airstrip in Borrego Valley and had a casual lunch at the cafe there before taking to the skies once more and slipping back over to the sea — that great big ferocious blue thing that so effortlessly refracts the heart of the sun.

It was such a grand day.  It was such a thoughtful surprise.  I have had the great pleasure of flying in so many little planes and helicopters over such beautiful, wild country in the past 12 months of my life it has had me thinking, for a while now, that I might work on achieving my pilot’s license.

To testify to all the days between then and now.

The snow came, that great revealer, and with it came the elk herds, antelope herds, mule deer herds and the quiet shush of the slumbering winter world.  We went out in it with our eyes and hearts wide open.

7I9A8272

From our skis, on the first day, we saw a bachelor herd of elk in the sagebrush.  To run away from us, they first ran towards us, traveling on the old, trampled trail they share with the deer and pronghorn, until they crossed the two track we were skiing — not twenty feet from our rosy, wind bitten faces.  Farley was ahead of us and he reared back on his hind quarters and cowered in the snow as they passed.  The world then was thrashing and humming with antlers, mild-mannered-testosterone, cold smoke and wild eyes.
7I9A8586

We saw the way the snow had pushed the birds down low in the canyons.  We saw how desperately they were feeding on spring moss when we inspected their crops in the evening, before dinner.  We watched the fit survive and the unfit die.  We saw how the Hungarian partridge fared best of all, more adapted to cold and deep snow.  We saw the bony breast of the chukar, the fatigue of the quail who lives there on the tender threshold of his territory.

Sometimes the lives of the unfit were taken by our own guns and dogs and we didn’t feel badly about that.  So thin were the quail, if we didn’t eat them, the coyotes, hawks or owls would have.

What’s the difference, in the end?

I saw that beautiful shift and sway and cycle of energy, of consuming and being consumed, that has always been and always will be, as far as the stars, and beyond them too.

7I9A8639-2

Another day, while I skied alone, I saw the same herd of elk, the full herd, a herd of what I estimate to be 400 animals.  I saw them out in the sage as I skied and they saw me.  And to run away from me, they ran toward me again, on that same old highway the ungulates have been walking this winter, and once more they crossed my two track so close that I could smell the musk of their piss and wildness and fur and see the pupils in their eyes and Tater and I stood in awe and wonder as the snow-muffled thunder of 400 elk crossing took our breath from us.  We waited while they all crossed our trail and at first I struggled to free myself from my gun and pack so I could recover my camera and photograph it and then the struggle began to take away from the holiness of the moment and I eventually allowed myself to simply sit there, squatted in the snow, hunched over my skis, arms wrapped around a hysterical dog as the elk passed us by.  It occurred to me that everyone has been using the phrase “wild and free” lately and they don’t know what the heck they are talking about.  They don’t know.

We skied down the hill from there into slightly lower country and as we came around the corner of a coulee, we came upon a huge bull elk, bedded down.  He looked over his shoulder at us, his branching antlers cutting at the sky, slowly stood, jiggled his balls about and then trotted off through the sage.

I felt my human heart pounding.

I saw the way the mice zig zag between the sagebrush, darting between cover, trying to avoid the omnipotence of the hawks.  I saw their tiny, pouncing, dashing footprints in the snow and understood their clever survivorship by the meaning of their tracks.

I saw a herd of pronghorn that was so big.  So big.  The biggest I have seen.  Their bodies were electric in the sage, white rumped, bounding.7I9A8658

I saw the hard work and broad hearts and bright eyes of my dogs.  I saw them live their instincts.  I let them do the work they were bred for.  I watched them follow their noses.  I believed in them.  I had faith in their abilities.  I trusted in their body language.  I brought home birds for dinner.

I shot so well.  I outshot Robert.  It was a miracle.

I shot my first, clean double on Hungarian partridge and we celebrated with a cold, numb-lip kiss in the field while Farley fetched them up for me and placed them in my hands.

We skied by headlamp.  We saw the stars.  We loved the moon.  We drove home while sipping hot tea from a thermos.  7I9A8687

I saw a patch of bloody snow.  I found the tail of a jack rabbit there.  Just the tail.  Soft and perfect — kitten grey on one side and ink black on the other.  I pulled off my mitten, stroked the fur for a moment, then put it in my coat pocket to take home.  I wondered if the kill belonged to hawk or owl.  I’ll never know.7I9A8308

We hunted the place of hares.  I have never seen such a thing in my life.  When I looked up to the sagebrush covered hills above the creek and allowed my eyes to adjust, I could see jack rabbits moving across the snow like a plague — twenty rabbits, forty rabbits, sixty rabbits.  They seemed to multiply before my eyes; double with each blink.  All around me, I could see where they had stood beneath the sage on their hind legs and nibbled as far as they could reach up the branches.  Beneath the sagebrush lay piles of mowed leaves, downy as feathers on the crust of the snow.

There were so many hares they had made highways, packed the snow beneath their long, broad feet, so that the trails held me up as I walked.  As soon as I stepped off a rabbit track, I fell post-hole deep into powder.7I9A8306

We saw a parliament of owls.  Oh, there must have been thirteen.  I tried to count but they were whizzing around like mad and flapping those wide wings attached to weightless bodies.  They had been roosting together in a tall clump of sage and as our quail hunt disrupted them, they rose up, beating at the thin air and we, so deaf to the drumming of their delicate feathers, marveled at their silent flight.  I have never seen a parliament of owls like that.  So close to me.  So acrobatic in flight.

Later that night, on the drive home, I saw a great horned owl in a wind belt on the edge of a ranch.  I called out “owl” as I pointed at it, but by then we were so desensitized to wild beauty it almost seemed ho-hum.  Almost.  No.  Not quite.

No.

Never.7I9A8452

As we hunted, we heard a pack of wolves howling.  The wolves go where the elk go.  The elk are so low now the herds can be seen from the interstate that passes between Boise and Pocatello.  I wish I could wake up one morning and see a wolf, riverside here, sipping from the turquoise-green as it rushes by.7I9A8471

We were looking for pheasant and quail but instead, we found porcupines.  One was in a willow, high up in the skinny branches, shredding bark and slowly nibbling his dinner down.  The porcupine is the North American version of the sloth but not as slow.  I will testify to the fact since we saw a second descending the slope across the creek from us and he was covering ground at a porcupine-gallop.  For a moment, I felt a little fear.

Naturally, I was compelled to do some porcupine research and the most important thing I discovered is this, “…porcupettes are precocious at birth.”  Then, I laid there, crammed on our loveseat and covered in a cat, looking at Google images of porcupines and hollering at Robert each time I found a photo that was especially cute.
7I9A8542

This is all to say that this winter, so far, has been incredible.  Each time I step outside it’s as though I have entered a biology classroom and I’m gifted with all the truest teaching I have ever craved on the topic of the wild world around me.  I would like to think that if I wasn’t hunting, I would still go out there, I would need no reason to go.  But to have the reason to go out there to get my food is one of the greatest reasons of all and I have learned so much about my quarry, about my dogs, about my man and me, about being human, about being an animal, about how to move and think and feel, about how to sense, that I think I’m past the point of no return.

There’s no going back now.

The sun has set on any chance that I might have to be tamed in this life.
7I9A85487I9A8190