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Cedar

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Notes on Spring

My Mom says she can hear the plants growing in springtime. Standing outside, boots streaked with mud and sweat clinging to the back of my neck, I think she might be right. It looks to storm later, the sky a funny silver I don’t trust, and I want to get the rest of this soil amended before it hits. I don’t know the name for the tool I’m using here, I took it from my parent’s garage and then I broke the handle*, but it has four or five curved fangs of rusted metal that I’ve been hacking at the dirt with for the last hour and a half while alternately heaving bags of compost and potting soil into the bed. It isn’t that hard of work, but the air is very still in anticipation of the weather to come, and so I am filmy—not quite sweaty, but not quite cool, either. Reminds me of New Orleans. I planted honeysuckle last year in this same bed and it never bloomed, but then again, it didn’t die either. New Orleans gave me filmy skin, and also honeysuckle fever, so that now no good weather is complete without that sickly sweet smell drifting through the air, and I planted accordingly. No growth last year, but this year I can tell already they’re going to explode, and the yard will be awash in those delicate, stark white flowers, more potent than a thousand perfumeries. I can hear them too, right now, in the quiet before the rain comes back. Dashes of light green pepper the vine, promising growth anew, holding secrets that will be revealed, I feel sure, come summer.

Born a daughter of spring, it’s a season I feel particularly beholden to—it has a dreamy quality I love, where trees burst into flowers and the ground erupts into green, but is also marked by a frenetic energy that I feel pulled by, a magnetic draw towards awakening out of the deep sleep of winter. Easter is in this season, a reminder of renewal I love. And it’s the season that marks how I grow, too—it’s the season I look down at my roots and up at my branches and say I have done well, I am here and strong and getting bigger.

Spring has come early this year, not so much earlier than other years, but early enough that I am already dreading the long, last hot days of August that will bleed into September, where the fern-filled world I love so much will be burnt dry by the sun.

Rachelle and I are going to build bat boxes. Or I am going to build bat boxes—she agreed it was a good idea. I want them to come live in our yard and eat the billions of tiny bug bodies that will fill the air once the real good weather comes. It didn’t get cold enough this year to kill any of them, you know. We are doomed to having bug-filled smiles after bike rides to the farmer’s market, doomed to breathing them on accident when we laugh too hard during barbecues.

What I love about spring too is the smell, the earthy damp of new life born of seeds, fostered by the dying bodies of the plants that came before them. Winter here is too much filled with decay, the rainy scent of mulched leaves, but spring takes that smell and lightens it with the heady scent of dark green. I’ll get inside and wash my hands, dig the dirt out from under my fingernails, but it will still hover around the periphery of my nose—that green smell.

Before I quit for the day I sit on the edge of the porch and throw the ball for Cedar in earnest—I’ve been tossing it half-heartedly while working on the soil, and now I give him my full attention, until the bluebird comes and all three of us are startled to find the other there. He throws open his wings to put on the breaks, tossing his wee feet out in a pantomime of a predator, and then decides this is no time for fight. He carries on flying, landing in the bumpy pine at the back of the yard, tweedling hot. His feathers reflect the sky, a little, so he shimmers in the gossamer light of an almost born spring storm. Cedar is interested, for a second, and then we play ball until my shoulder hurts.

Boots I leave on the porch, they are chewed in the back where Cedar took to them and so muddy even I know I shouldn’t bring them in. The sliding glass door rakes open when I tug, leaving a barely wide enough space to get through—it’s been sticking, the track is off. I squeeze in, call for the puppy. He is outside getting splashed by the first drops of rain, the very edge of the storm moving in. Come on buddy, I say, and as I rake the door back shut, I hear a cacophony outside—rain hissing, plants sucking in rain, an audible pop as new buds appear from thin air, branches whooshing out to meet the rain, the quiet creak of flowers as they open their eyes on this new, wet world.

Inside it is a quiet gray, and all I can hear is the hum of my own engine and the gentle snore of my sweet puppy, who has already fallen asleep in the corner of the kitchen.

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Swing Your Gun

IMG_5404Swing your gun, follow the line of the bird. Get your face down closer. The day is gray, a wind kicks up, the toilet paper stuffed into my ear tickles. My Dad pulls the clays, and my Uncle stands behind me, trying to see where the shot is going. He thinks it’s high, but he’s not sure. Get your cheek down closer to the gun, my Dad says again. Keep your eyes open. I know all these things, in theory, but my body doesn’t yet. My Dad and my Uncle, they make it look so easy—one swift action from a relaxed gun in hand to a taut line of muscle, aiming for the bird. Where they are instantly predators, I am still clumsy, encumbered by humanity’s gift and curse, the mind. Too much thinking, not enough instinct. That’s the problem, I know it. Some things are comfortable now, the smooth pearl feel of the stock, the way the butt of the Verona should feel tucked in tight to my shoulder. The perpetually cold steel of the barrel doesn’t surprise me the way it used to. I know the small click of a trigger pulling, the sound of shot exploding, I know the tremor of energy that precedes the brief hush of a world gone still after that yellow piece of plastic echoes out from the barrel of my gun. For a second, too, always the brief acrid smell—like fritos, I’m not kidding you. I walk around outside all day smelling fritos.

But I still have to think about the motion, the gun in my hands to my shoulder, to following the bird, to turning the safety off to not closing both eyes and then finally the wild shout into the void, a shot. It happens in less than a second, but to me it is an eternity—a mind clicking through a checklist, when it should be a body rote in action.

This is just experience, I remind myself, frustrated as I miss pigeon after pigeon. I release the action and the barrel springs open, spewing wasted shells onto the ground, I reload to waste more, forcing the barrel open a little farther—this is a trick of the Verona’s, to not open fully. Every now and then she’ll misfire too from the second barrel, we’re both a little moody. Take a deep breath, he says. So I do, and I think of the thousand fields those two have walked without me, the hundreds of hills they’ve pressed boots into in search of chukar, the rooster candy they’re used to, and I remember they’ve earned the ease with which they handle their guns, and I haven’t. I will, but I haven’t yet. Time, my old fickle friend, is at it again.

Guns are not instinctual. Hunting is, but the instrument that we use to accomplish that aim—a good old-fashioned firearm—has to be learned. The urge to hunt, that’s something we all have, a dull gleam in the back of the human mind, struck to spark if given the opportunity. It roars in some, it winks out in others, but it’s there somewhere, I’m sure of it.

Practice is over, we head for the fields in search of the elusive rooster candy. Today is Cedar’s day, so we reign in the big beasts, a near impossible feat and no light task for the left arms of my Dad and Uncle, and cross our fingers that he’ll know what to do. He knows, the fire of instinct is strong in this one—he knows we’re here for a reason, and it’ll be a year or two before he really figures it out, but today is a good start. He’s grown enough now that he’s starting to show signs of the graceful gait that he’ll maintain for the rest of his life, a gentle lope through the golden grass—glimmering silver today in homage to the sky—that he’ll use whether we’re going around the block or for fifteen miles. Mostly gone is the puppy hop, almost too soon if you ask me, but I am happy too, to see how a simple joy exudes from every particle in his being, a creature wholly in the moment, smelling good smells, checking back in with me every now and then. Sometimes, though, he’s all puppy and runs so far from us he’s out of earshot. But he’ll learn, soon enough, that without me he will never get a bird—he does no good pointing a field away, no good pouncing on birds.

We both have plenty of instinct—it’s what makes your head snap up at the familiar whisper of wings, it’s that unconscious pull towards a particular stand of sagebrush—something you just know, and it’s what makes Cedar stop dead in his tracks at a smell. But without the gun we are both useless, because this gun is the only thing that’s getting either of us anywhere. I do okay, now. But target practice proves important.

I miss the first hen of the day, I don’t shoot at a second—the approach up to the dog makes me jumpy, nervous, knowing that at any second the bird is going to flush and then it will be go time—but the bird doesn’t flush straight and I can’t hit her without hitting a dog. So I don’t shoot. That’s a good choice, my Dad says, that’s a good choice. We walk for a ways along a swampy little creek, chock full of cattails, and Cedar goes snout to the ground, gulping up scent and air so fast it’s audible. I see the pheasant—I think it’s dead at first, I’m not proud to admit—but it’s so close to Cedar I think, surely he can’t miss that, but he has, I point it out to my Dad and he says, ahhhh L, no it’s not. And the bird flushes because we’re so near, not because Cedar points him—he still has some learning to do—and I double tap the bird before I even know if the first shot takes. He plummets to the ground after barely getting off it, and Cedar takes off, returning with a mouth full of pheasant to lay at my feet. My God he doesn’t always find them, but he’ll always bring them back. The pheasant shines in the gray light of the day, still a glorious thing to behold, even though he’s now stiller than he was in the cattails. We praise Cedar, Cedar eats a cattail, this is the way the day goes.IMG_5392

Birds shot over a highway, Dexter keeps breaking his point, two roosters who remain elusive, and my Dad and Uncle both have colds. By the end of the day we are bone tired and sick of birds, but Cedar has done well, and I’ve done okay, and we’re ready to go on our own. I’m pretty sure.

Driving home, we go over the mountain, and it pours on us, a steady stream of water coming down the windshield. It’ll get better, I know—the gun will get used to me, I’ll slip into predator mode as easy as my Dad and Uncle do. Cedar and I have a lot of work to do, miles to put in, shots to take and miss, and some to hit, and that’ll make it worth it. Patience and time, that’ll all it’ll be, patience and time and a lot of walking.IMG_5399

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Stories for a Rainy Day

This rainy day is spurring other rainy day remembering, so here are two shorter stories from a very rainy day and a not as rainy day, but I’m counting it, because we thought we were going to get wet all day. Dry Creek Falls

10923237_10152733821084538_3727117722329835797_nWe know it’s crazy but we go anyway, as one should in the face of reasonable risk. All through the Gorge it rains, at first just a drizzle, but then earnestly—a hard steady rain, a good winter rain. We know water though, don’t we, native Oregonians that we are. If you let water stop you here, you may never go outside. So we load up our kennel—three Shorthairs is a lot of Shorthairs—layer up in waterproof gear, and hit the road.

Ironically, we’re headed for Dry Creek Falls, one of those little gems tucked back into the Gorge, tumbling down over the abrupt stop of the many jagged edges that characterize our little wet valley. A geographic miracle, did you know? We get on the trail, a portion of the PCT (so hot right now), and start walking. My sweet puppy is immediately soaked and increasingly distressed, his lamentations voiced in rather pathetic puppy yowls. Dexter and Remi race ahead, biting and snapping at each other while they run. Cedar stops trying to keep up after our first half mile, staying doggedly at my heels for most of the hike.

We wind through a second-growth forest, the trees thin though abundant, each branch swaying under the weight of a wet that is almost incomprehensible—the word for this day is saturated, our steps squelching, our hair curling from the damp, every exposed piece of skin shiny from the water. Ferns drip pearly beads to the ground, the earliest, most daring shoots peek little green heads from the dark earth. We stop for a minute and puppy hides off the trail under a tree, shaking and cold. I am starting to feel a little nervous about him. We don’t talk too much, just keep moving. Too soon I start listening for the roar, or at the very least the familiar rush of a creek, and this makes the hike seem unending, as anticipation will do. Until finally, we get there, Dry Creek proving to be anything but. It’s beautiful—soaked in color and raging with the new strength that this storm has offered. We are bolstered by the sight and the sound, and so we push on to the falls. The rock forms an arc around the back of the fall, an amphitheater for the performance of the water, falling not from grace but to it.

Cedar has worked his way into a burned out tree and starts licking his wet fur, the pink of his skin visible underneath his soft puppy fuzz. Wow is what we both say, because it is worth it, our wet faces turned in admiration to more water. We’re daughters of the valley, rain runs through our veins. To see a river, to find a fall, is to know where we fit in the grand scheme of things—both an anchor and push off from shore, a guiding light and a dizzying release. I pick up puppy, tuck him into my jacket, and we start the walk back.

By the end we are both soaked, and tired. Puppy is shaking on my lap in the car, wet and terrified, pressing hard into the relative warmth of my middle, hoping to burrow right into the very hot heart of me, and I wish for a minute I could too—recede into my inner self and away from the cold damp of everything around us. Heat on full blast we pull out of the parking lot—we need to find like a drive-in espresso place, I tell Rachelle, because neither of us are wearing pants but we both desperately need something warm—and the universe does us a favor by having exactly what we need a block down Cascade Locks’ main street. Back on the road, we clink hot chocolate and sit in companionable silence. That was wetter than anticipated, Rachelle says. At least we have the decency to not whine about it, I tell her, that’s some good Hobson stock. And we both laugh.

The real beauty of this day is not in Dry Creek Falls or the gentle arc of a wet fern leaf, or the solitude of a trail no one else wants to walk. It’s in the easy company I find in my sister, the steady companionship I’ve known for as long as I’ve been alive. Here is both my very best friend, a choice I’ve made, but also the light and love of a person who will never leave me, so wrapped in each other’s fates are we. This kind world granted me the honor of having a sister who leads the way in earnestness and grace, hard work and unfailing love. We generally are two sides of the same coin, similar in speech and mannerisms, different enough in thought and perspective to challenge each other and keep things interesting. But I don’t think anyone could know my heart of hearts like my sister does, or understand and appreciate the delicacy that are clean sheets, or recognize when to push and when to let be. These things, this day, a reminder of how lucky I am—in family, in place—a life full of good green things and fine company.

 

Clackamas River

IMG_4375I sometimes forget that Darren is not from here, that he doesn’t have the same history of place grounding him to all the secret spots Oregon has to offer like I do. Which is why I exclaim, incredulous, when we round the curve outside of Estacada to drop down closer to the Clackamas River—met by a spread of mountainous green rolling away from the startling blue ribbon below us—and he tells me he’s never been to this river before. What a delight to have the taste of discovery laced through most of our adventuring together, and what a joy to be able to share places that I’ve grown up loving with him.

Rolling down the highway we pass mostly kayakers out for an easy Saturday spin on the river, their little boats flashing neon as they bump and dive through the rapids. I’ve done a time trial here, I tell Darren as we pass by a flickeringly familiar boat launch, I show him where I got lost, and we are both transported by a memory I would’ve never thought to share otherwise. It is quiet out here, winter time solace to us solitary souls—were it summer, we would work to get away from the masses, hike far and hard to be alone (and then, never really alone). But today it is just Darren and I and our little puppy, out for his first long hike, the first of many. I have a dream of reaching Pup Creek Falls today, what I think will be a reasonably quick 8 miles, but I start hedging my bets when we get Cedar out of the car. Here, amid these soaring trees and thicker than me trunks, his legs start looking very short.

The trail is thick with fern, shored up on one side by plant life and falling away on the other to meet the river, tumultuous and churning below. We are happy walking—except for puppy, who whines almost the entire time—I take pictures, practicing with a camera that I’ve gotten a little rusty on. Darren cajoles the little one into following us, though I know he wouldn’t let us leave him, no matter how tired he was. The denseness here is breathtaking, if you know to appreciate it, the lushness of this forest worth hiking for, despite the threatening black clouds overhead. They’ve been hanging low all day, making the air sweat with anticipation. I’m sure it’s going to break any minute, but it doesn’t—not until we get back in the car and curve back up the highway, taking one last look over our shoulders at a now obscured view in Estacada. Fern crowd each other out for the sun along the trail, I recognize some of them—here is five finger fern, I want to plant it this year in my yard, here is swordfern, here is lady fern—the names a talisman of sorts to my tongue. What I love to see is fern growing on tree limbs, from dead stumps, tiny fiddleheads peeking out from patches of moss, and here there is a wealth of good ferns, waving their graceful fronds as if to say hello, come in, and keep going.

We cut in close to the river after two or three miles, aware of puppy’s weakening resolve and a desire to see the water we’ve been courting from above for so long. The tree roots are laid bare along the shore, the ground eroded away from beneath them by the water, revealing the complex web that is usually secreted away under foot. The river echoes up the canyon, a loud, rumbling beast of a thing—power made tangible, a thousand years on display for us to see. We sit, perched on rocks overlooking the Narrows, as the icy blue of the water swirls up and around rocky fins jutting out to the water. Creeping closer we move onto the pebbled beach, testing each step, slipping down into the caesuras between the rocks. Louder here, I shout and puppy whines, but the repetitive crash of the river is too much to resist, an ocean tide caught in a bottle. We flicker fingers into the edge of the water, sucking in breath at the cold—water so clear you can see the river rocks underneath, reds and greens and oranges teasing from beyond our reach, flashing in the depths.

I look over to see Cedar curled up on a Darren’s dropped sweater, trying to sleep—stick a fork in him, he’s done. We pick him up and pack out, the falls forgotten. On our march back to the car I keep my eyes on the sky, and still nothing. Apparently, the river, roaring like thunder, was our weather for the day. We cut into the rock, hugging close to the wall as a different waterfall tumbles down on the other side (I think of the Disneyland Jungle Cruise ride joke, look folks, the back of a waterfall!) the spray that blows in on us an icy surprise. We tromp across sawn-log bridges and rivers tumbling down the mountainside to meet another river—water, water, everywhere—we listen for the birds we can see darting through the trees, black shadows flying against a darker sky.

Finally, just before the littlest one’s inevitable collapse, we get to the car and drive on home. The day before marked a year that Darren and I have been wrapped up in each other’s lives, a time that has felt both much longer and much shorter, and that is, either way, a drop in the bucket of a lifetime. Talk is easy and idle going home, the way it so often should be, and when the rain starts dropping I smile, because I know this place, and I knew it would rain—it always does.

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Bird in the Bush

IMG_4535The sagebrush is singing a golden song today as we creep towards the chukar, urging Cedar along. I am aching deep in my chest, a hollow feeling—I want so badly for him to find this bird, to lock up when he hits the scent—but the lessens while I listen to the sweet hymn that rises as we walk, each step stirring up the quiet harmonies of a world grateful for the bright mid-winter light. He is excited, looking back at all of us, a crowd for what we hope will be his first point. His little spotted body quivers in anticipation of something he doesn’t understand yet, his wee snout tests the air. We walk him out a little farther, bring him a little closer to where we think the bird is. Mt. Hood looms over us, a deep, resonating bass line to the many melodies weaving their way through the valley floor—and then, the music stops. Cedar smells it, suddenly, his head whipping to the left. He is confident, sucking down scent in ways that we cannot imagine, as he heads for the bird in the bush. The whole world goes still, waiting—until he freezes, drops his shoulder, locks his body with unerring tenacity at that chukar, and what feels like all of creation erupts back into joyful noise. My bird dog’s gonna hunt.

Later, on the drive home, my Dad will say it gave him chills, and I’ll admit that I teared up, and my Uncle will even go so far as to say that it was pretty cool. I am proud to have witnessed that moment, when my puppy—that little life that I have been responsible for nurturing—found his place amid the grand order of things. He was born knowing bird, hardwired for one smell, and it was on this golden-song day that he was celebrated for it.

We cheer as he holds his point—good boy, good boy, Cedar!—and then I creep up behind him, forcing the bird to flush. The sudden burst of energy, all those feathers in motion, surprise him and he startles, looking back at us for affirmation. That’s such a good boy, Cedar. Such a good boy. We are ebullient, the sky cheers too, we are all so happy to be here and witnessing this soul-stirring moment.

One puppy’s success does not define the rest of the bird-hunting day for the three big shorthairs waiting in the truck (we couldn’t let them steal his thunder), so we keep moving. The big dogs are rambunctious and rowdy, they know what’s out there and what’s to come. They are eagerly anticipating that smell—that most satisfying of all stinks in the world—and they are none too patient in the car. We release the hounds, Darren takes Cedar further away from the guns, and the rest of us head up the road to see what else we can find.

We are walking towards Mt. Hood now, a little chaotic as a group—I walk next to my Dad, Michael out to our right, and my Uncle to the left. The dogs are running wild, free of the truck and eager to burn some of that excess energy that built up while Cedar was discovering his reason to be. A small price to pay. We fan out over the sagebrush, get lost in the rippling shades of sun that the light breeze is turning the grass to, and watch the dogs. I am always too eager, they say—I want my gun (the Verona, you know her) on my shoulder while I’m creeping up behind the dog. Patience, then action, that’s the key. Remi is holding a stiff point, and I move slow, getting conflicting directions from my Dad and Uncle. Then the bird flushes and instincts take over, a magnificent rooster hanging—suspended for a heartbeat—against the backdrop of Mt. Hood rising up to meet the sky, Mt. Jefferson and Adams close behind, and then the drop when my aim is true.IMG_4598

Hank brings the bird back, beady black eye now shut, feathers no less shiny for death. The gentle weight of the bird settles into Michael’s vest, one scaly foot still lightly clawing the tan of the canvas. The dogs nose the back of the vest as if to ensure the bird is really there—that it all worked as it should—then they move on, a job still out there to do.IMG_4562IMG_4551

All day—from sun-up to sundown, it is surreally beautiful, a privilege to be where we are. Do you know that feeling, to look around and see people you love in a place you feel lucky to be in, doing a job you feel proud of, connected to a universe larger than yourself—do you know that feeling? All day—even when it’s a cluster and the dogs are chasing a pheasant through seven-foot tall reeds and no one can get a shot off, even when we hit the dirt so Michael can shoot over us, even when Remi gets heat-sick—I feel so content.

And all day I go back to that little puppy, how proud I am of him, and how excited I am for us to learn and grow up a little (maybe a lot) together. He points again and again, incorrigible when it comes to smell, he comes back with a face full of feathers from a different fallen bird, he whines whenever the big dogs get too far away. By the end of the day he’s out with us, fine with the noise of the guns. His velvet ears fly above the sagebrush—sometimes the only visible part of him—as he bounds through, still too small to even get close to seeing over it. Everything in this light is magic, the camaraderie palpable and the pride overwhelming, all of us a part of one timeless tune.

Darren and Michael a shot they shouldn’t have and go off in hot pursuit of the bird, unwilling to admit defeat. Or unwilling to endure the taunting that’s sure to follow a performance like that, which they might still deserve. All three big dogs follow them, afraid to be left out, while my Dad and I sit on a rise over the creek, watching their progress. Cedar takes one look and instead seeks the shade my back is making, one quick sniff to the wind and then he flops to the ground, asleep before he can catch himself.

Little legs fluttering, even in his dreams he is chasing birds, and I know we’re about to have a thousand more days like these—or close. The view may be different, the company might change, but there are a few things I know for sure—my dog and I will chase golden song days and the rush of bird flights, together, a team.IMG_4610IMG_4538

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At the Ranch

It was late when we got there, late enough that I was heavy with sleep all the way over—every blink an invitation to slip back into the twisted tangle of dreams lurking just beyond my eyelids. I kept fighting to stay awake for Darren’s sake, so he didn’t have to fight the same battle I was—plus the long, windy road—alone, but the cozy warmth of the car and the reassuring weight of puppy on my lap made it nearly impossible. Each time I surfaced to consciousness I opened my eyes on a new flash of shadowed, curving highway—a familiar road turned ghostly and strange in the night.

When we arrive, a new energy invigorates me. I’m wide awake and confident getting Darren up highway 19, knowing exactly which turn was ours, anticipating the bend—this other home to me, the smell of cold, sharp air, the dark outline of hills I know well. The night is almost day in moon shine, the crunchy layer of snow underfoot casting light all around us. Puppy runs happy laps while we pack our bags into the empty cabin, the soft glow of embers in the stove the only sign that life has touched this place. I know the rest of the crowd is up at one of the summer slash piles, burning the night a thousand shades of flame. It’s late, remember, so we tuck puppy in to bed and then chase the fire and my family up the road—I don’t quite know where they are, but I remember slash piles higher up than they’ve ever been—so we just keep driving, swaddled safe in the Jeep, the forest, and the stars, until we see the tail lights of the truck. The big shorthairs jump out from the backseat, a blur of barking, wagging tails and jumping, they lick our hands and circle our feet. And here is the legendary band of brothers, the raucous and rowdy, their familiar faces licked by firelight as the dark is consumed by the flames. My cousin Spencer is here too, and his friend—someone I met once, maybe—and everyone is happy, easy in companionship. I delight in the company of this group of Uncles, I’ve known them for so long, you see—and they’ve known me. The lucky benefit of a tight-knit family, so many people to remind you of where you’ve come from, and how far left you have to go.

IMG_4255The fire eats into the ground and dances for the sky, smoke roils up to the above—meeting no clouds on this starry night, only the moon to whisper secrets to as it passes by. We stand around and listen to them tell stories, bullshit mostly, as one does in the presence of beer and fire, until the cooler drifts towards empty and the circle grows quieter and quieter. Muckle Matt tells my Dad he’s driving the truck back to the cabin—like hell you are—this pack of animals play fighting like any other. We follow them back down the road in the Jeep, my Dad hunched on the tailgate (of my own damn truck!), my Uncle Matt the victor.

In the morning Darren leaves early to elk hunt and I let that little puppy into my sleeping bag, until the combined heat of both our bodies is too much to handle in one down cocoon and we break out of the little cabin gasping for cooler air. The day hasn’t quite started yet, early dawn light washing the world blue, but we are up. I need too much from this place to be able to sleep in—we have so much to do and so little time to do it in, or so it feels. Cedar has no fear here, something instinctive in him has sparked, and he runs hard up the hill, free from cars and sidewalks and the noise of people. I have no fear here too. His ticked coat blends in too well with the patchy snow on the ground, and now big fat flakes are flurrying down from above, so I can hardly keep track of him as he speeds around the drive, nose to the ground. I whistle for him, whistle again, until he appears at my side (as if by magic) and we go into the big cabin.IMG_4261

A slow starting morning for those of us here, though we keep an eye on the porch for the elk hunters. My Uncle has a tag and is leading a bit of a war party out there—the boys all clamoring for the experience, thrilling at the thought of sighting one, hunting something, connecting to that primal animal that lives in each of us. I am content here, today—the cabin heated by the fire, coffee in the pot, my garden book begging for my perusal. The familiar voices of my family swirl and settle around me, boot stomping, a little puppy yelp once in a while from the dog wrestling happening on the floor. We’ve got a bird hunt to go to a little later on—well, really I don’t think I can go. I’ll be sacrificing today to spend with Cedar in exchange for many more seasons hunting behind my own dog, but I’m excited for the others. I know how their hearts will beat a little quicker at the ROOSTER call, how they will start (can you help it?) at that harried flurry of wings, how they’ll race towards the dog, standing stock-still in the cover, every cell in their bodies concentrated on a smell (the most delicious of all).

I know how it will go, and I know I’ll feel a brief pang of frustration while I watch them walk away—their backs a line of orange vests and camo, the men easy and open as they get started, the boys tense with anticipation—I will feel left out. Puppy will be at my feet, whining as the big dogs walk away, we’ll be united in our mutual unhappiness—standing here on a bluebird sky day, a weather-beaten barn casting shadows to our left, a hundred birds missed for the shots I won’t be able to take. And I also know that this will give way to wistfulness, and then optimism, as I head back down the highway in the Jeep with my dog riding shotgun, a day at the ranch open and all mine.

I have no time to waste on disgruntled unhappiness, not when I have an open road ahead of me and that wide blue sky above, a good dog snoring gently by my side. The local radio is playing something twangy, the black and yellow ticks by steadily as I curve down towards that land I’m tied to. Quiet again when we get back, a dead fire in the stove and breakfast still all over the counters. We were out there at Skip’s—was his name Skip?—for an hour or so, after the elk hunt proved fruitless and we drove the highway for too long looking for the right turn-off. Cedar did enough romping around that he’s tired now, and he sleeps on Dexter’s bed in front of the fire I get started again, rote in my actions although I rarely am here alone. Outside my hands are cold as I chop kindling, my nose runs constantly, my face gets a little dumb while I stand on the porch with an armful of wood. So much of this place is colored by the people who love it—this view, of the road carved out through the valley, racing away from the cabin and into the beyond---I’ve walked it a hundred times on foot and a thousand times in my mind. This view that my Dad made his legacy, that Uncle Ollie caught in oil paints, that Uncle Jay gets up early to see. The view that my Mom looks out on and recognizes the person she loved first—before all the rest of us—all the wild in an almost untamed heart, all the dreams that were made reality. And I stand here, and I see all this, but I see more too—I see what it means to me, something intangible and unspeakable, and all the things it will be to me.

These trees and rocks and dirt, they don’t mean anything until we make them something. Humanity’s gift and curse, this fight for reason—our reason to be—in a world that asks us to accept only because. But here in front of me, stripped bare and sacred, is my reason. Because I am alive and I am a part of this, more than anything else. Because I know nothing but contentment among these wild things, because to walk for miles on rocky ground is to know the only God I do. I think we are all seeking the same things, out here, though we walk different roads.

Cedar whines from inside, I’ve been gone for too long. I go inside, feed the fire through the black yawning maw of the wood stove. I make tea while Cedar wakes up, and then whistle for him outside—we’re going for a walk.

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