I admit it. I was pushing the season. It’s been a dry year, a low snow year. Despite mellow temperatures, the snow was long gone from the Boise front range, golf and gardening were in full swing. Even so, I know that it’s dicey to head for the high country in May. I just had to do it.
I awoke to lenticular clouds polka-dotting the blue sky and a severe cold snap in the forecast.The car was loaded, fueled, and ready to go. I had a few errands to run so I got a late start. As I left town, the party-blue sky had disappeared behind a canopy of thick grey that stretched from one horizon to the next. I shook my head at my own folly.
Less than ten miles north of town big, fat, sullen snow flakes began to attack my windshield. They looked preposterous as they drifted down to rich green fields. Despite a growing conviction that I was the stupidest person on the planet, I continued my drive through the snow storm. The flakes were melting as they hit the pavement. The storm would surely not last. The road was empty, as I knew the mountains would be also. Even if I chickened out and returned to my dry bed at home, the sights were charming. After two and half hours, I arrived at Peace Creek trail head. The sizable parking lot was empty, but for my car. I watched the flakes falling from the sky. They were becoming lazier and lazier. But so was I. I tipped the seat back and closed my eyes for a catnap.Thirty minutes later I startled awake. Good grief! Why am I sleeping in the middle of the day? It was still snowing—very lightly. Should I go or should I stay? As I mulled the possibilities and peered at my map, I heard a scratching noise. I looked up to see a puffed up mountain bluebird perched on my rear view mirror.That was my answer! Go! Of course, you must go! Whadya have to loose? Are ya worried that yer hair’ll get wet, ya little ninny? I suited up and marched off toward the bridge over Peace Creek. I quickly recognized that I was plenty warm. The wet earth imparted an intoxicating perfume. Water droplets bejeweled everything, turning the mundane into the Queen’s jewels.
Before long, I realized that it had quit snowing. I tromped along the well-marked path, brushing past wet foliage and chastising myself for wearing cotton cargo pants that wicked moisture toward my knees. Unexpected little accumulations of snow enchanted me.
As I retraced my steps, everything my eyes fell upon touched my soul.
Damp Ponderosa Pine bark attracted my sniffer. Have you ever smelled a Pondy? They send out the most delicious aroma of vanilla bean and chocolate. Who needs mocha when there’s a Ponderosa nearby?
When I stopped for lunch, I couldn’t resist reaching for a large milky quartz. I know, you’re supposed to leave things as you see them, but heck this rock was right in the path, ready to trip some unsuspecting hiker. So, after fortifying myself with the sandwich from my pack, I hefted this 6.5 pound rock into the bottom of the pack. I’m just like my mother. The quartz is a stellar contribution to my back yard.
Along the way, I observed many deer and elk tracks . . .and . . .This photo tells a story: the story of the big bad wolf. That camera lens cap is 2″ in diameter. The canine print above the deer track is about 4.25″ long. (It doesn’t look quite that big from this angle, but I have another shot of the paw print right beside the lens cap. Trust me. It’s BIG.) I love that my woods are no longer completely sanitized of large, four-legged, predators.
By the time I got back to my car, the sky had cleared, all but for a few clouds. I replaced my wet socks and boots with clean, dry socks and shoes and proceeded to explore the countryside a bit more by car before finding the perfect campsite from which to eat my dinner, watch a nearly full moon snake through the trees, and hunker deep inside my down bag. In the morning there was frost on the grass and frozen puddles to verify how damned cold it got during the night.
Life is extraordinary!
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.