Owyhee Field Notes: Part Three


I try to put into words all the reasons why I am drawn to this landscape, drawn out into the spareness and rough-hewn humility of it, why I choose to live my outdoor life here and plant my home roots here.  The paragraphs I’ve written over the years seem inadequate, murky, unrefined.  So I’ll try again.


I was born skinny, scruffy and scrappy.  I came into this world like the mule deer does, bracing against a hard wind, slick and wide eyed on knobby legs.  I learned to walk.  I learned to run.  I’ve done my share of running.  I’ve blended in and I’ve stood out, defined against the burn of the sun, sharply sky-lined in fearsome definition where the volcanic table meets the sky.  I’ve been chased, I’ve had my hocks bitten but I’ve never been hamstringed.  I’ve never gone down on all four knees and surrendered.  I’ve fought.  I’ve lived.  I’ve had peaceful times too, effortless times on gentle days when the green-up is rich in my belly and warm in my blood stream.


When I look out at this land, I see a reflection of my interiors, of the topographies of my heart.  I see the steppe, the grand sweep of it that looks utterly without dimension until I put my boots down it in and begin to walk, rising and falling with the sagebrush, passing through the coulees, scrambling down the rumbling cliffs, teetering for balance on the sudden edges of the canyons.  I see this range relentlessly unfold into crumbling magnitude — where others see emptiness, a world without trees, a wasteland, I see thrumming life, a forest of oldgrowth sage, a complex and delicate ecosystem of critters with impossibly strong wills to survive.  It’s a tough place to do our living and dying but I’m bound to it now, as a caretaker, as a keeper of the herds and the coveys.  My food comes from here, this place feeds me and some day my bones will feed this place, too.


I see the hard line that falls between darkness and light, the canyon face cut in two as the dawn pierces the night.  I see the river and the springs eat through stone, the inconceivable green of the seeps where they warm the winter earth and melt the snow, the lifeblood of this land, the great gatherer: water.  I see all God’s creatures come and drink deeply and I drink, too.

There is a great horseshoe bend in the river, fenced on one side by walls of current-chewed stone.  I sit on a rock in the center of it all, the water prattles by, swirling in and out of itself yet carried strongly in the true direction that makes it whole.  Up high on the rim I see a gash in the cliff face where red mafic rock spills forth like blood that won’t clot.  I am sheltered from the wind here, I shed my coat like the rattlesnakes have shed their skins on the rock shelves.  I hear a canyon wren.

I put one hand in the current.  The water is frigid, the pulse is strong.