After snow shoeing to the top of a nearby hillside on the ranch, our dogs Emma and Griz, and I linger. Creatures of habit, we follow our own rituals when we arrive. If the winds are quiet, Griz and Emma hunt for scents among the sage brush, perhaps noting whether or not a coyote or fox or elk had traveled over the ridge. On other days when the winds out of the west rustle my jacket, Emma and Griz stand at my feet: Emma’s eyes settled on the track headed back home and Griz turned away from the snow storm roaring through Long Gulch and onto our private ground of perspective.
Today, I feel Emma and Griz at my feet, and for a few moments I repeat my visual mantra of the terrain below. In between blinks, a kind of snowflake dodge ball, I imagine the rugged edge of the Zirkel Wilderness to the northwest hidden beneath still and low lying clouds. I follow the Elk River as it meanders, crisscrossing meadow lands where our cattle and horses feed before it turns east out of view near Red Dirt Trail. Then to the south, I scan Elk Mountain standing unchallenged, a sentry at the foot of the valley floor. Then Long Gulch patiently draws my eye to the west, its rolling hills inhabited every quarter mile with a neighbor’s home.
Each I time I finish my mantra, I look out to the open valley and believe again in possibility. Recently, it’s the possibility that my sister and I will find solutions to the challenges my aging mother faces after a hospitalization; it’s the possibility that I will one day find relief from the shocking and unforeseen loss of my brother, who upon his death, was the same age I am today; or perhaps it’s just a simple insight of what’s possible for a piece of writing with which I am struggling. Whatever the daily struggles are, I find relief in the expansive view and the terrain I know by heart.
I see Emma shaking beneath her coat as the storm pushes east across the summit. I know it’s time to begin our descent and reluctantly, I set out onto the trail. In those first few steps, I carry a ticker tape filled with images: the Zirkel’s cloudy shroud; a curling band of mother cows feeding in the meadow; a cottonwood-lined Elk River disappearing into the valley’s end; a stalwart Elk Mountain; and my extended neighborhood nestled in the hillsides of Long Gulch. A creature of habit, I tuck away this landscape as if it were my very own possession and follow Emma and Griz on down the trail toward home.