In The Field

In The Field

I.

I am asleep in the desert. I am dreaming this world and yet another. In which I am impossibly tall, resolutely female. My vision extends to the horizon. I see with an effortless, steady, dimensionless knowing. It is January and cold when the sun sets in the Mohave, so we retire to our separate tents early, campfire notwithstanding. Rhythms change. I sleep for four hours and awaken, alert and aware, present in the hyperfabric of dream space, centered in its truths and extent. The pattern repeats, I dream again. I have a staff; I am a warrior; I am indomitable. My intelligence is unbounded. I know. I belong to this place, it is my domain. I am the Earth, the Earth is me. Another morning it is especially still and quiet, dreamless and full. Snow is falling, the landscape and I are draped, shielded, embraced and we are reverently at peace. The extant whole of the Earth is apparent, emanating, and pervasive. I resonate with its thrum, I exalt with it. I, too, am more. It is a becoming like no other. Every winter in all the years since, I have ached for the desert and its dream world. My great love for the planet – its fluxing entirety and perpetuity, its temporal and timeless dances – owes to the desert and what I have dreamt there. I am formed by it more than any study or work. Because of the desert, I create. Because of the desert, I write.

 

II.

Somewhere in the Bitterroots, I have not paid attention to the sun or cardinal directions in the van on the way over. We are being shown outcrops – ribbon rock? a fault? I cannot recall. I do remember the unexpectedness of a mountain saddle high up – though not high enough for snow – and the pastoral feel of the grass and the flat. Then, a far-off rumbling crescendos into our awareness, into thunder. As one, without thought, we turn like dancers to see a herd of wild horses at the horizon flying towards us, with intent. So quickly! They are right there before us, facing us in an arc, the alpha male its keystone. They pound the earth with their hooves, snorting insistently. They are so very large, time and space collapse as their gestures fill our view. Unconsciously we have mirrored them, our group leader anchoring our curve. Jim steps out extending his hand. The stallion too, instantly, to meet him, but his head is high, his chest is out, he is assertive, challenging, dominant. Jim speaks in a sonorous, soothing voice, the way you’d speak to domesticated animals who are unsure or timid. But the stallion is having none of it. He shakes his head, violently, snorting and beating the ground again. The others join in. It is threatening – just – sublime in that remote Big Sky mountain-scape. We are not welcome. This is their place.

I say clearly but softly, to the herd as much as anyone, “They don’t want us here” acknowledging what all surmise, but not out of fear, rather to hold the moment, to forestall a break with magic, to keep time slowed. We step back, in retreat, our postures careful as we walk to the vehicles.
They watch us, somewhat more still, somewhat appeased, but holding their ground with great strength and power, and then, all at once, they are gone – to the wind, to the horizon, their place reclaimed.

 

III.

The clouds are low and long and perpetual, tufted and thick as down. It will snow soon and for a good while. This is welcome news, for even though we are breaking trail, the sleds want a good base. It is cold too, well below well-below zero, and that is good for the dogs, who are lethargic in more temperate climes. Wolves and humankind have grown up together over our short part of the long life of the Earth, and we make good partners now, having somewhat both domesticated and freed each other. All the members of my team are wild in the main – Alaskan huskies – the term used to denote that not one of them are pedigreed, but all are mixed mutts and curs, bred and chosen by nature to run. I am here in the boundary waters between Minnesota and Canada to be wild with them. We have made a bargain. I will feed and shelter and protect them, and I will lead. For their part they will pull and run and pull and run and run. Out-of-harness they will frolic and I will watch. It is no disadvantage that I am a woman; on the contrary our guide tells me, in a small aside unheard by the men, that women make the best mushers. It is our empathy and intuition, our commitment to the good of the group, our innate respect, and our egalitarian understanding and appreciation of role that makes us trusted by the pack and worth following. And my six dogs do follow, they run and pull for me and run some more. It is easy. The guide, who had taken the rear position, starts to pass each team ahead of him, one by one, demonstrating and explaining his technique. We are novices, though, and not intended to follow his example. Even so, I do, when the men ahead are slow, unconvincing to their teams who are in turn aimless and purposeless, uncoordinated. My dogs are impatient, restless and itchy, so I give them permission. “On by,” I say. “On by!” I turn them to the left holding my right hand higher to keep them facing ahead heedless of the teams they pass, who thereby are unchallenged. In this way I preempt the canine equivalent of trash-talk or smirk and so avoid a dogfight. I do not look at the men I pass either, for the same reason, although unlike the dogs they are resentful. I catch up to the guide, running just behind him. He is pacing himself to stay with the group. My dogs are as one now, flying, and they don’t want to slow down. They will me to give the command, I hear them clearly. But it would be bad manners to pass the guide – I am a little afraid that I am in trouble as it is – and I don’t know where we are going either, as there is no trail to follow. So we stay behind, apace. I know I am in the clear when the guide turns and fixes me in his look. He has been paying attention to our maneuvers, to my command, and the hint of a smile flashes from his eye.

And so it goes for four wondrous days, in a great circle from base camp, to yurt, to cabin, to base again, over rivers and islands, into Canada and back.
At the end of the trip we arrive at the kennel truck. It is my last encounter with the dogs. My last act – my last gift to each of them, is to load them up into the warmth. They are not large animals – forty to forty-five pounds apiece, but still I am a girl and slight and tired. They are ready though, waiting, asking, noses up, and I lift all six one at a time shoulder high into their beds. The guide watches in his still way. I embrace the hard and the soft of it as I do the wild, unafraid to handle them, for we are the same. We are bound by joy, to each other, to the Earth, to life. They sing to me, the Earth sings to me. I am their sister and her daughter. These are her stories I tell, the notes of her songs transmuted into words.


 

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