I had an amazing three hour run along the border of Apache Creek Wilderness. This is one of my favorite reasons for being here. It was a perfect wilderness run complete with rocks, water, wildlife and solitude. Saw an Arizona Black Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis cerberus); I nearly stepped on it but it stayed mellow (as is its nature.) Didn't even rattle.
A large bull elk crashed off the trail followed by the dogs; a red-tailed hawk circled above and landed on a large boulder; collard lizards (Crotophytus collaris) scurried out of the way of our feet.
Ruin tank still had some nice water, possibly from the last rainfall and the dogs got a good swim.
Before dropping down into Hyde creek I saw this cool view of Juniper Mesa with a leaning agave stalk.
One of my favorite flowers, Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii)...
Back at the truck with the boys.
Our bodies are meant to move like this; we are meant to run. We are built for it; lungs, heart, legs and spine. Since I have been running 4-5 times a week, I am a healthier and happier human than I have ever been. My life has always been great, and now it is greater. I am letting my body do what it wants to do. Long, fast downhills; short, strong uphills; even, rhythmic flats. The magic comes after I've been running about an hour; the insights, the creativity, successful resolutions of perceived problems, the joy of being present. It flows over me and carries me along; the "high" lasting up to 24 hours after the run.
In one month some friends and I will be doing a long distance run on Hopi land. The Paatuwaqatsi (Water is Life) run will be thirty magical miles through ancient villages and past sacred springs. The run will raise awareness of the water issues facing the Hopi today. Bucky Preston (founder of the run) says: “This was something that I had always wanted to do for many years. We are forgetting our Hopi values. We are forgetting to help each other out. I want to see that effort return to our community. Putting Hopi life values and teaching at the forefront is the purpose of the run. Why are we taught to run early in the morning? Because running not only strengthens you physically, it strengthens you spiritually. A runner would take one of the many foot trails from the village in the early morning to a spring, take a drink from the spring and sprinkle himself with the cold water. This gave that person strength and provided healing for any ailments. Everything at Hopi involves water—water is life. Now, water is being abused and is depleting. In some places, it is gone and I want to bring awareness to the people.”
Okay, I run this route several times a week. I get to a certain point and I feel I am being watched; maybe I am. I call the dogs closer and they run, one on either side of me. Down through an arroyo, over a boulder, along a dry stream bed. No trails through this part of the run, I just float along the pinyon juniper woodlands feeling like a deer. Light and leaping, over a downed tree, ducking under overhanging branches. I pick my way along in the shadow of Juniper Mesa. I feel I am being watched; always in this part, eyes watching me.
I can make an educated guess; the only thing that would watch me run through this land is a mountain lion. They are so hunted here (by dogs) that they will flee or hide in trees at the sound or smell of a dog. The fear has been passed down from generation to generation; they associate dogs with death by gun or arrow. Sad, but for me running alone it is what keeps me alive. I am running after all, looking like a brown deer in their hunting grounds. They're not just sitting around waiting to prey on people. They are extremely shy creatures. They just want their deer meat so they can get on with what they do best: sleep, mate and raise babies. But... if all the humans have shot their deer and moved into their territory, and they are really hungry, a human might look pretty tasty (especially a small brown one leaping through the forest feeling like a deer.)
And then I see it. Not the lion, but the deer (carcass) tucked up under a juniper. Not 15 feet from where I am running in the dry creek bed. It looks like it has been there maybe two weeks or less. Legs, spine and pelvis are strewn in a 10 foot diameter. Barely attached to the spine is a skull with a gorgeous set of antlers. There is debris covering some parts, but the majority has been devoured already. I look around, call the dogs closer, and attempt to pull the skull free. I see that the attack must have come from the back of the skull; it pulls free easily.
So, perhaps I have been being watched. O well, I run with possible watchers every day out here; it's part of the package. This is where I fit in; the wild landscape and its great curving embrace.
I run home with the skull and my family thinks I am crazy. The antlers make great beads and buttons, but for now the skull hangs on my garden fence. I see it every day and it serves as a reminder of the wildness of this land.
Something happens when one has lived long enough (with intention) on one piece of land. There is a deepening of relationship between person and place, as if the land finally accepts you as one of its own.
When I approach this land with reverence and gratitude; when I eat the wilds of the land and of foods grown with its waters ; and when I sit in silence and listen in stillness, the land begins to trust me. The creatures come nearer without fear, the noises of the woods and fields resume around me. I am no longer a tourist or visitor; I belong here.
The ravens are nesting again in the same place they nest every year. Squawking youngsters wake me each morning. As soon as they fledge, they eat out of the compost pile and the dogs have a new job to do: protecting the precious compost. We become familiar, raven and human, and each day when I empty the compost bucket, they hop a few feet away and wait. They, like coyotes, are opportunists. They can and will find food elsewhere if they have to but have discovered that if they wait nearby someone gives them fresh scraps every day.
Tonight, in the field next to the house, a bull elk grazed quietly. Sometimes, we get headlamps and go out to see; he (and others) come throughout the year at different times. Next month, they will begin to rub their antlers on the trees to loosen the velvet, but at this point their antlers are still growing.
Last week while on a run through the pinon-juniper forest the dogs darted into the trees. They barked then became silent and when I rounded the corner it was me, the two dogs and a young bull elk standing in a 25' diameter circle. When standing that close to a large antlered creature, one should not move. Even the dogs stood still. We looked at one another and it trotted away. These experiences nourish me (almost daily) on this land; this is where I can be a part of what feels real.
In times of big water, the wild gets the upper hand and I feel a deep satisfaction inside. We cannot drive our cars, cannot cross the creeks; the roads have washed away. This year is the year of big water. The rain and snow melt from Apache Creek and the runoff from Juniper Mesa and Walnut Creek converges behind our barn.
Walnut Creek comes to meet Apache Creek and creates a flow so powerful, at times, that trees are torn free and sent down the creek. The fences keeping the cattle off the two hundred fifty acres are swiped aside in one moment by trees and debris. Animals are swept away and lodged along with other random items (garden hoses, tires, buckets) high in trees. I have happened upon squirrels, a doe and a young gray fox that lost their lives in the torrents of water cleansing these waterways.
Every year, once or twice, we head out with wire, fence tools and thick gloves to repair the water gaps and any other sections of fence destroyed by winter storms.
This winter the storms just kept coming, one after another. I didn’t believe the mud would ever end. Laundry drying on racks next to the wood stove, muddy dog prints all over the house, horses with soggy, foul-smelling hooves (horse people know what I am talking about,) and wet-dog smelling wool sweaters.
The seasons, here, get names. The grasshopper spring & summer when tiny ¼ inch grasshoppers ate every green thing that we planted in the garden (getting chickens cured that;) Kiva’s broken leg and surgery year (trampoline;) the autumn we “went off gluten”; the elk summer (when elk came every night to graze and sleep in the tall grass near the house;) the rattlesnake summer, when we saw a rattlesnake every day. Kiva nearly stepped on a Northern Black-tailed Rattlesnake (Crotalus molossuss: pictured above) and it struck her flip-flop, missing her foot by ½ inch.
This was the winter of big water and mud.
I can still hear the creek flowing loudly. Not angry like after a monsoon flash flood, but busy and happy like a group of children free to play at whatever they like, as long as they like. I will not always hear it from where I sit on the south side of the hen house. By the end of May it will be barely a whisper, a tiny voice we can only hear if we walk down to its edge.
The creek ebbs and flows, sometimes gentle, sometimes angry, sometimes giggling, sometimes sleeping. But even during the driest years, water can be found. Tiny pools swimming with quiet, struggling life. Tiny tracks up to the edge, careful not to disturb this gift of water.