Monday, November 15, 2010

Badlands Secrets

Monday November 15 2010

I have come to roam the Owyhee Badlands.They hold the secrets to the past, hide the mysteries of the present of this land.

A wide wash born in the Owyhee mountains 4 miles away becomes a narrow crevice as it turns around the base of a hill. The crevice becomes a canyon in the ashy dirt,

a sculpted gorge, with walls twenty feet high.

I feel the pull of it, the urge to climb down into it. My feet find a game trail that other animals have used. I think that this is a good sheltered place, and then I find a small cave - a perfect round hole dug into the wall.


There are no fresh tracks at the entrance, so I stick my head in. It curves around to the left;

I stick my camera in for a photo, and it reveals scratch marks on the walls - the finishing touches to the den for the next pup litter.

It is a clever hiding place, concealed from much of the world, defendable.

Danger lies in a flash flood - which may come once every hundred years, or every two years, or never, but perhaps the coyote mother will feel a flash flood before it comes - if it ever comes - in the way an animal knows, and move her family to safety. She might have time.

Now which way to go? That small sheltered dry grass basin protected on three sides by wrinkled Badlands hills looks inviting. The grass must be high and green here in the springtime, a place to graze, to rest out of the wind, out of sight. The way I have chosen is the same way a deer has come. He has left behind an antler for me.

There are bones here, too. It is a sheltered place to eat. I keep one eye out behind me, and one eye above me, so my bones don't grow old here.

Now which way? It's much easier to traverse this country if you move not across the drainages and ridges, but with them, effortlessly, fluently.

Use it like the animals do. That narrow ridge rising from this grass draw looks enticing, logical. And it is the same path animals choose - I am on another game trail, my feet naturally following a path to the rim that has been long eroded into the earth.

As I rise above the basin, the layers of Badlands come into view,

and the language of water speaks of its power. Water has designed and whittled this country: it slices whimsical grooves in this soft ashy dirt. Serpentine channels,

miniature gorges, shelfs where waterfalls will roar in a rare heavy rain. This was all once under water long ago. You can see layers in the eroding hills,

shells in the exposed layers.

The trail spills out on the flats along the rim, and I migrate instinctively toward the Owyhee mountains. My feet are still following the path of the animals before me.

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