My home is nestled into the convergence of several ecosystems. To the north, the landscape wrinkles into rather barren looking foothills; their beauty has grown on me in the way they capture the long angles of early morning and late evening sunlight; they hoard the last of the sun’s bruised rays in crevices that resemble junctions of the body—groin, knee, armpit—casting a sensuous glow over the gently sloping hills. The further you penetrate those hills, the greater their abs, which push them upward toward the sky, inviting a hairy growth of trees and shrubs that inevitably ends at their bald, snow-draped and toothy, granite pates. It is usually those shaggy mountains, filled with mystery and danger that lure me from the comfort of my home.
But during April and May, the high country is mostly buried in snow or snow sliding into mud. So I point my searching nose in the opposite direction where the verdant oasis of river bottom land reaches south toward the vast open range and high desert country of Nevada and a corner of southern Oregon.
Idyllic and hardscrabble farms blanket the fertile floodplain south and west of town. There are mom and pop farms, relics of a bygone day; there are obsequious gentleman farms, subsidized by corporate paychecks and hired help; and there are whole sections at a time of agri-business, capitalizing on seed crops, alfalfa,beans,corn, potatoes, mint, hops, dairy cows, and even grapes for the newest agricultural upstart, the Snake River Appellation.
Horses abound, near town, they are sleek show horses and family pets. The deeper into the sage and the emptiness of BLM land you go, the more likely the prospect of stumbling into a herd of wild horses.
Now, in the heart of Owyhee country, the land begins to lift once again into low slung protrusions of rock, remnants of long ago volcanic activity that left quickly cooled lava, which hardened into basalt. Fingers of the Owyhee River meander through the rock, carving deep canyons and gorges in some places, and carrying rich sediment into lush valleys in other places. Parts of the Owyhee River lure serious boaters during an ephemeral season of Class IV and V whitewater. By the end of July, the water fades to a mossy trickle. Scattered hither and yon are spring blooms that would inspire van Gogh. These will be gone in a few short weeks. The history of this God-forsaken region is rich with myth and folk-lore. The name, Owyhee, is said to have come from a trio of hapless Hawaiian trappers who went into the region in search of furs and were never seen again.
The roads, by now all eroded dirt, lead upward, to a bench from which taller, mineral-rich mountains beckon in the distance on one side and on the other side drops off to miles and miles of flat sage scrub. It’s all earth and sky. It’s enough to make a person plumb dizzy.