Magazine article Sierra

Holding Steady

Magazine article Sierra

Holding Steady

Article excerpt

I've driven a long way up a rutted two-track and walked another three miles over a short-grass bench, looking for a difficult landscape to draw to take my mind off the death of my horse. Up here are miles and miles of empty, rolling country above the serrations of badlands and below the forested Absaroka foothills. A deep dome of high pressure encloses the whole of it now; no wind, only a few, almost motionless cirrus-cloud filaments in a sky of hard enamel blue.

Out on a flat parapet, with the ground falling away on three sides into seething erosional forms, I line up a landscape that contains 13 distinct horizons. The nearest are multicolored, turreted, and gullied; the farthest are snowfields on the Continental Divide. Hunting season has just begun; percussions of rifle shots from miles away reach my ears at the rate of about one every two minutes, and sound like doors being slammed shut in an empty house. Each time I hear them I envision my horse falling to the ground from the bullet that ended his life after he broke his leg. Remembering his death, even as it recedes into the past, sets off small tidal surges of grief We rode together for seven years, and on every ride he taught me more of this country.

Nevertheless, looking over this familiar ground steadies my heart, not so much because of its beauty, but because of its implacable presence. Right now I need its huge solidity, its impersonality, its "otherness" to provide a protective calm over me. I can look down on the town from here, at the houses of my friends. In comparison with this lean, dry place, that one looks slippery with mortality. …

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