We’d been in Prescott several months before I felt brave enough to wander the state trust land near our new home on a hill overlooking, well… almost everything surrounding us – valleys, canyons, mountains.
Being raised in the Midwest, the landscape of Arizona’s Central Highlands was like another world – harsh, seemingly barren, with strange creatures I’d been warned of: giant spiders, poisonous snakes, big cats, long-toothed peccary.
I expected an unwelcome encounter around every scrub, rock and corner, but soon found none.
Instead, I discovered in this small, square mile, an odd, new world of high dessert ways where life and death are on display with every cow for slaughter resting in the shade of a low, broad pine, every blade of blood red grass pushing through the dry, rocky earth.
In the great, bright white blossoms of the moon vine which shun the mid-day sun all summer long, closing their blossoms to everyone. Then as the earth begins to cool, the shrivelled blossoms slowly unfold and reach out to the gentler night.
In every piece of a recent kill, picked nearly clean from above and below, until nothing remains but full bellies and scattered bones to bleach and decay in the strong, abiding Arizona sun.
Each time we wandered its rolling terrain, it begged more questions and felt more sane.
Because every new path helps me see; helps me become part of the marvelous whole which co-exists so beautifully on the highland square beside my home.
One still, cool, autumn day the dogs and I went walking, making a dubious circle inside this small square of land. About half-way round, we climbed a small ridge near the northern fenceline, alongside a jarring stretch of a dirt road that leads to Chino Valley.
There, on the other side of a wide, shallow wash, some 15 yards away, we encountered a herd of pronghorn – two dozen, or so – grazing. Though every creatures lifted its head from meals, naps, and play, they didn’t seem bothered enough to take leave.
To take flight.
Even as the dogs whined and pulled hard at their leashes.
It was a remarkable sight. Small groups of juveniles, females and males, spread out, but close at hoof, with earthy colors of wheat, white and black blending with the vast desert grasslands where they like to roam.
I once found one of their dark, slender, knobby horns on one of our walks, having just been shed.
Still pungent and warm.
Feeling the aching resolve of the dogs’ interest in my arms, I soon turned away, toward the west and home. Happy to have been able to get so close to such remarkable creatures – the fastest land mammal our hemisphere. (The cheetah might be fast, my friend, but the pronghorn has the speed and endurance.
The dogs were frantic and frightened and nearly pulled me off my feet.
All I could do was dig my heels into the dry, hard earth and with nowhere else to look, stare straight into the eyes of the leader, who seemed somehow surprised by our meeting. With the herd at her heels, and us just ahead, it was up to the lead as to how this would end.
So glad she decided, at the very last moment, to dart to our right.
The spray of dirt from her hooves shot into my wide open mouth, as we watched the leader take her swift-hooved family around the other side of a short, fat scrub, just a few yards away.
I held tight and dug my heels deeper, as the dogs turned with the pronghorn, and me with the dogs. Yet instead of continuing forward and away, the leader suddenly turned the panicked herd and circled back to where all of this began.
Instantly surrounding us on all sides. Lifting the dust high above our heads.
The dogs, now howling, kept yanking and yanking, but I kept them anchored, all the while bemoaning the unreachable phone in my back pocket because no one was going to believe that we were at the very center of a neighborhood stampede.
When the bright white backside of the final pronghorn disappeared into the dust, I finally looked down from my tired, trembling arms to see that the dogs were not in the least bit tired, but trembling too.
Holy shit,” I laughed, repeating the sentiment a few more times, as my sore, quaking, anxious fingers fumbled for the phone in my pocket to call Kurt.
I found my breathe again on the slow, wobbly, happy journey home.