There’s a thing that happens with sheep in the mountains of Wales and Iceland: they become acclimatized to the mountain, and pass that acclimatization on to following generations. Once they have been acclimatized, they never leave. No fences required. Here it’s the deer. They spread across pastures, on the grasslands, on steep trails up the arroyos, on steep mountain slopes of shale and sumac and saskatoons, and on gravel bars left by the glaciers. They’re everywhere..
... and an invisible man watching her.
Deer cover this earth. There is not a tussock of grass in the country that deer do not circle and weave into a net. If you try to walk in a straight line across the hills, you soon find that the only path through the grass is the path of the deer. You can fight it, but chances are you’ll just get cactus in your knee.
… from the aspen ponds of the upper grasslands to the lowland willows and tasty suburban shrubberies.
Each bunchgrass plant is an intersection between trails, a chance to go up, or forward, or down. The deer follow them all. Other creatures are weaving the land into a net here, too. Check this out:
… even tails leave prints, eh.
The voles create a finer net over the land than the ones that deer make. They travel from slopes of deep, wind-blown earth down into streambeds, where they harvest exotic plants and flowers and bring them home. In the winter, they keep all this stuff underground and skitter around in tunnel cities lit with white light. Sometimes we get a glimpse of this world …
There’s not a square centimetre of the entire grassland that is not covered by these trails. If you tried to follow them all, you’d go nuts. For instance…
One Ring-Necked Pheasant …
… coming and going. Following a pheasant is not about going somewhere. It’s about being somewhere.
The trails of coyotes cut cross country, as they track deer and hunt voles in their gardens, and pass nightly from their dens high up into the hills, down over the falling slopes of sagebrush, through the subdivisions like smoke, and into the swamps far below in the floor of the valley, and back.
I followed this road for two hours, higher and higher into the hills, and back.
In tight spaces, such as along the rims of ravines, coyotes move quickly in single file, marking trail intersections with their faeces. Their presence remains long after they have passed. Every coyote following them for days knows the way. On the broader slopes, they pass in a swath up to ten metres wide, sifting through the sagebrush side by side. Their movement is not random. In all my time walking in the grass, I find myself time and time again walking in their footsteps.
I just turned off a roadway in what seemed like a logical spot, and discovered that, yeah, it was.
If I look across a slope, and pick up on a route up to a knoll, I can be sure that the coyotes have chosen it long ago. If I turn off a road to pick my way down a slope to another road three hundred metres downhill, I can be sure that just as I turn a coyote path will open up beneath my feet. There’s an art to moving through the land as part of the land in the ways of wind, earth, and water. All art was like that until we told ourselves that it was better to live in our heads.
It took me twenty years to realize that I’d been acclimatized to the valley, but, hey, never too late, right.