Of The Prairie

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I’m not talking about a valley between two mountain ranges or regions that are punctuated by flat patches of earth.

I mean prairie — interior lowlands, wide, weather conducing swaths of land that roar with silence when the wind isn’t ripping through bunchgrass, willow and scrubby poplar bluffs.

For years now, I’ve referred to the great northern plains as a caesura;
a wide breath of space that robs the mountains of the true meaning of grace,
a hard and undulating passage of land between the jutting lobes of the coasts,
the place the heartbeat of the wild is traced out

in the staccato of
star spangle

in the gleam of
old bones in the gloaming

in the conductivity of
tall grass and pungent sage

in the way the soil clasps hands with the wind.

It’s a place that gives and steals in both a merciful and merciless manner; bringing forth new life in steady arcs while old life fades to rust and bone split in two by wavering gold. It’s a hard place for anything to do its living and dying, but there’s a comfort in knowing the prairie always takes back her own.

You know me. And if you don’t, I’ll be the first to inform you of the fact that I spend a lot of time out on the land and it’s my great honor to be able to live off of it, to take from it what I need exist on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels — and to give back, when I can, what I can. Not a day goes by when I don’t step out into the wide arms of the world here and notice, firsthand, the cycle of energy between the living and the dead, the bones and the wildflowers, the trees and the mountain springs, the pronghorn and the sage. I’m connected, I’m plugged in, and I’m grateful to be so.

It’s a perfect system out there; left on it’s own, there is no beginning or end to it — just like the One that created it all — I’m talking about Alpha and Omega.

The mountains, the plains, the great oceans, they are the beginning, they are the end. There’s simply a smooth line, the birth and decay of wildness and beauty, the tall grasses splitting bone in two, the heave of the flowers and sage, the eruption of the sun each morning and the going down of the same.

How blessed am I to see it in full dimension as often as I do.  To be almost blinded by the simplicity and perfection of the great feast, of the great unbroken circle of energy between the elements, between the coming and going of spirit, between the bloom and frost of the seasons and to exist there, wholly, belonging because I choose to belong in a deeper way.

The difference between the living and the dead is breath. Caesura. A great and quiet plain. The space between the dead and the living is an inhalation, an exhalation, a great pause, a long rest in the holy of holies. I see it all the time, at my own hands or the fangs and claws of others; the short rest before the bones and flesh are thrust into use once more; the timeless moment when the spirit departs and the body begins its transition into something new.

Ashes to ashes. Stardust to stardust, baby.


Here, there’s no such thing as luck.


I always say there’s no such thing as a lucky catch on the South fork of the Snake River. Every fish is earned — even if they are small, especially if they are big. It’s a holy water out there that renders every trout powerful with a divine and beautiful strength making it a fair wrestling match between man, river current, wind and trout every single time a fella hooks up.

Robert caught this lovely cutthroat at near dark, just off the gravel bar we parked our raft on for the night. I had built a fire and was pulling out the stove to cook dinner when I heard him call out the words, “Loo, I have one on!

 I left what I was doing to watch him carefully play this fish and eventually bring it to hand. The sun had set. All was dusky. I looked out over the water and saw trout after massive trout rising like porpoises alongside an ocean going ship; backs humped, slick and shining, rising up against the river current to take bugs off the surface in a full fledged feeding frenzy. It was the witching hour for fish — something I have been privileged to see so often in this blessed life of mine.

 This cutthroat was a dapper old dandy, such a honor to catch, inspect and release back into the night to once more do his bug slurping from the surface of holy waters. I watched him leave Rob’s hand, kick his spotted tail in reckless contempt of the August breeze, disappear into the river, and I whispered to myself, “Amen.”

Fire Wife

I married a man.  Or, I thought I married a man.  It’s more complex than that.  I married fire.  I married the smoke of burning forests and grasslands, the hiss of singed deer as they drop down into lakes and streams, the billowing black that stains lungs and stings eyes, the rasping cough of tall flame.  I married lightning strikes, the violent explosions of tree trunks,  yellow shirts and green pants filthy with ash and sweat, the buzz of chainsaws, the danger of hovering helicopters, the maniacal purr of bulldozers and the crimson stripes of retardant turning mountain slopes to checkerboards.  I married the long, hot kisses of homecoming.  I  married cooking for one.  I married the blown out knees, the compressed vertebrae, the broken bones that come with too many hard landings.  I married the whispering silk of parachutes and the hum of industrial sewing machines.  I married a new lexicon; now I speak Canadian, American and fire.  I married childbearing in my late thirties, or early forties, or not at all.  Maybe I married lonesomeness in old age.  Maybe I married freedom and adventure for all my life.  I married the eternal wait for permanent positions, the bureaucratic crap that comes with federal employment, the tangle of job applications, the hope for interviews, the joy of reunions with our fire family at the start of the season and throughout winter.  I married missing Idaho and all her wild lands and all her dizzy skies.  For now, I am married to the Methow Valley.  I married summers alone but thank God for those short nights and long lasting sunsets and my little cabin in the woods.  I married winters of leisure, with just him and I.  I love winter.  I married the bros.  Then I married all their wives.  I married the last minute work details, the wilderness areas without cell service, the breakdown in communication after too many weeks apart.  I married trying not to cry on the phone.  After all, what can he do about it when he is so far away?  I married the black soot that rims the shower after he washes up.  I married stinky boots.  I married Pendleton whisky in a little green flask — his, not mine.   I married chewing tobacco — not his, theirs.  I married all of these things, but there are things I did not marry.  I did not marry fear, too stillness, evaporation of dreams.  I did not marry resentment.  I did not marry charcoaled wastelands, only clean slates and bald openness which green will velvet and the fuzz of fireweed blossoms will paint magenta.  There is the blessing and curse of opposites, bumping and whirling like magnets at play: I did not marry water, I married flame, though water I may be.  Perhaps this is pure spring creek flowing through me, water siphoned through steady bedrock, filtered with diamonds; a cool, melodic laugh rising up as I trip my way down mountain slopes and cascade in clouds from the razor edges of slate.  Perhaps I am the thing to soften, the thing to wear away the weary skin of tired things, the thing to make room for newness, the thing to quench all of these flames, the thing to unlock the trap of heat, to weight the power of the wind.  Perhaps I am the thing to calm and gently quell, to put out the smoulder of red where it licks against the black of night.  Perhaps, in the end, the true job of a fire wife is to provide for the ache of thirst, to be the small rain when it’s wild flame as far as a man can see.  If so, it’s a good thing I married fire.  I think I’m just what it needs.