Come for a walk with me.
I’ve been walking a lot, lately. It’s winter and I live in the Bighorn foothills, and I miss hiking tall mountains. The season prohibits that. So I walk on the prairie where I live, on the ranch.
A ninety-two-year-old Texan extracted oil in Wyoming, decades ago. He believed that taking requires returning. So with the money he made he bought a ranch, near the oil wells.
He wanted to make a ranch that could be a model for all ranches, that could show that conservation was attainable. He ran cattle.
He renovated the farmhouse, barn, and schoolhouse that sat on the property. He moved the defunct train depot from the tiny town nearby. And he invited artists to come.
I live here now, on his ranch. I work for the artist residency program. I’m an intern here for a few months. I have plenty of time, and more space than humans need.
So I walk a lot, up and down the road outside my house.
This time of year, things are quiet and bare. The land reveals things, past seasons.
I work on the ranch and work on my novel and when I get stuck I go running.
There’s a theatre of characters here. One run, up the road outside my house, I encountered a hostile bovine. About two miles out from the house, a hill crests and the view expands abruptly and I feel like the center of a compass. The Bighorns to the southwest, ranch headquarters to the northeast, my house, and Montana. I was halfway up the hill, sweating, when I encountered ranch cattle. They bumbled away from me. One stayed, close to the road, staring at me. I slowed down. Walked. It scuffed the ground. I stopped. It snorted. Damn, I thought. A bull.
So I backed up, sideways, and then turned and ran from the bull, back toward home. And as I did, all the cattle faces rippled away from me and toward a coyote, nearly blending with the winter grasses, trotting directly toward them.
I meet creatures of all kinds.
The deer are beginning to drop their antlers, early this year. A warm winter. Looking for antlers, everything becomes antler-shaped and really they are: sage tendrils out exactly that way, grass, willow branches. Bones.
Eric visited and I took portraits of him, for scale, against the landscape. Humans a curl of India ink over watercolor, here. The prairie, the foothills, the west–spread vast.
Feeling small–feeling as though the ground is cold and hard and long, that the wind will break the house, that whatever Vaseline I put on my cheeks for evening runs will never be enough to prevent the kind of windburn that the plains exact–comforts me. Or, perhaps it doesn’t comfort me, exactly, but makes me feel exactly uncomfortable enough to feel comfortable, to come in, trembling from weather and a hard run and an indifferent prairie, and realize, I’m wind-whipped and hungry, but I’m not lonely, here.
Sometimes, when I run, or when I walk, the wind is so loud I sing, or I yell into the wind, and no one can hear. It’s exhilarating.
Maybe I’m crazy.That’s okay.