It is the land.
This place of bitter winds west, then north, then south, then east. This place of sagebrush taller than the running lights on a diesel one-ton. This place of clattering shale. This place of cold stream in a thirsty land, clear water that nurtures cutthroat left over from a great inland sea. This place of high mare’s tail clouds and thin blue tint. This place of rawness where the land itself is the lure, the challenge, the reason.
You go there for the land. It reduces your old knees to pain. It reduces your herd of dogs to hide and bone and sinew and honed muscle and bleeding pad. It tears the paunch from beneath your forty-thousand dollar four wheel drive. It grinds the heel and toe from your three hundred dollar boots. It abrades and scrapes and lacerates the stock of your one-thousand dollar shotgun. And you go.
This is the place you dream of when, at long last (for some) and too soon (for you) the season finally closes. This is the place that you have captured on camera and put on computer so–late winter–you can see those haunts again and again as the screen-saver at your work place folds through an autumn’s memories.
You remember the stealthy creep of Sage in the sage, birds ahead, heart racing, finger at safety, waiting, waiting for that flush. You remember thinking: swing on one bird, pull the trigger. You remember one side of your face turning raw and frozen in that tear-jerking west wind. You remember the music of dinner-plate shale. You remember the taste of Kentuck bourbon, Dominican cigars. You remember laughter around the wall-tent woodstove. You remember the sound of wind stroking the desert stream willows and the pop of juniper on the fire. You remember the “whit too, whit too, whit too” of a fleeing chukar with the wind at his back and the Rebel rally cry from atop the far canyon wall. The smell of sage beneath boot and tire. The feel of an artifact from another time and another people in the palm of your hand. The deep glossy shine of obsidian. The hope in your heart when you cut new chukar tracks in old snow.
But most of all, you remember the land.