When I drove across the United States a few months ago, heading west, I spent a night pulled off of the highway somewhere in Wyoming and enjoyed dawn and an incredible sunrise, waking on the prairie for the first time in my life. There had been coyotes overnight, there were antelope around in the morning, and there were little invisible birds everywhere I’d stop for photos. I could hear them—really beautiful, distinct melodies, but I could never see them—just patches of grass and sagebrush, as though the landscape itself were singing to me.
I spent ten weeks walking back to the prairie, enjoying a first long look at the western mountains and learning its creatures and people. It may seem that the mountains would be imposing and the prairie something to be looked forward to but the closer I got to the eastern edge of the Rockies, the more imposing the flat land seemed—an almost eternal vastness of sage and grass stretching off to the horizon and then another horizon and then another. I’d never lived anywhere there weren’t hills or trees and I grew almost apprehensive as I approached the Continental Divide.
Then, suddenly really, I found myself out on the high plains of Montana needing to do or die. Where would I sleep and where would I get water or find shade?
I heard the little birds again in the grass—invisible without very close long observation. I watched a coyote on my second day simply materialize from a grassy gully and then disappear again. Huge soaring birds of prey coasted six feet above the grass, also disappearing from time to time. Soon there were mule deer who also somehow hid themselves amid the vegetation of the broad open country. When I’d stop for the night, a multitude of crepuscular animals would simply appear, especially along the tiny prairie waterways.
I watched and I started to catch on, to learn from the best, most sincere teachers.
I’m now light on my feet. I disappear in and out of the sage and deep weeds when I’m ready to sleep. I have a better sense about the life-giving water and where it’ll be when I need it.
For a very long time, I’ve been telling others to be ready to adapt, adapt again, and adapt endlessly when moving through wild places, and sometimes I have to listen to nature telling me the same thing all over again.
On to the desert.