Some days, the world feels very big — a vast empty expanse of harsh and punishing terrain, a place where no one finds a welcome.
It’s true that there are places here where no one is meant to go: They are the old places, long since given over to the spirits . . . or, perhaps more accurately, never surrendered by them in the first place. There are places not meant for the prints of moccasins, but only for those who leave no prints to betray their presence.
So much of this place is out of reach, high and hard and withholding hope as surely as it believes in gravity. Yes, believes, and you will, too, the moment that pebble shifts and the stone gives way and there is no longer earth under your feet.
It is as hard to be land-bound as it is beautiful to be bound to the land.
But the spirits, they come and go at whim and will, visitors and visitants and hosts and something that transcends ownership, a oneness with the earth and sky. Sometimes they come in other guise, an animal, perhaps, or a bird, or the storm.
For now, thought, the storm has abandoned us.
Coyote has returned, of late: large and well-fed and as always never satisfied. This is his winter, a trickster season, one with too much sun and no snow at all and plenty of prey whose hibernation is still deferred.
But still he seeks the easy mark.
The harrier is the honey badger of wind and sky: Nothing daunts her, no bird too big to attract her attentions. In the face of the whole enraged flock, she has made off with a live crow firmly in her clutches, or perhaps a small raven — a bird larger than she, but nowise as fast. She thought to do likewise again today, but the largest raven among the assembled corvids took it upon himself to become the target, the better to save his extended clan.
She, to whom this land belongs as much as any, suddenly unwelcome, and she remained unbothered through it all, wheeling and diving in the post-dawn light. She and the raven led each other a furious chase, but one distinctly lacking in anger or fear; after the first few moments, what began as predator and prey turned instead to a pair at play.
Eventually, she surrendered the lower winds to his rule, abandoning earth and clouds and remnant fog for higher realms. And just before she banked to spiral upward, she soared one last time before The Old Man’s face, wings arched high and tail spread to show the white band in the morning light.
Beneath her lay the vast empty space of slopes too steep for human passage; above her, the high cold winds of freedom.
Above her white band, held fast between her widespread wings, a piece of my spirit soared with her, free.