Displaying my fashion sense, I wear North Dakota.
There were two signs on the front of the building. The more prominent sign did not declare 2 7/8 as the name of the bar, but, rather, said, “ZERO TOLERANCE TO FIGHTING ON 2 7/8 PREMISES.” Welcome to fracking-boomtown North Dakota. I drove by.
That evening a massive thunderstorm piled up along the horizon, clouds towering above open plains, building strength, collecting moisture. Until, in the deepest dark of a moonless night, they had enough and let loose.
The Great Plains create some pretty vivid thunderstorms; this was a beauty. Lightning exploded across town in so many consecutive flashes I could see the length of the main street clearly for several seconds. Not just the blink of an eye that leaves you blinded and wondering if the light had been there at all, these flashes lingered. Clearly jumping from cloud to cloud and ground to cloud, there was constant light. The thunder kept pace, a steady rumble in the background with skull-crushing claps in between.
Then the rain came, pounding on the roof two stories above. The parking lot under my window disappeared behind the downpour, truck tires several inches deep in standing rain, as the drains overloaded.
The storm raged for what seemed hours, eventually tapering off as it moved across the open landscape. I fell back into fitful sleep for too few hours.
Many places become entirely inaccessible after a storm like this. Dirt roads turn to what we called Gumbo in Montana. Red dust, yellow dust, brown dirt, it’s all the same after a night like that, bacon-greased ball bearings. The collective hangover of too much.
Enter, the fracking industry, with its heavily graded and graveled roads that go everywhere, and took me where I needed to go that day. I don’t recall what I was surveying, plants or birds. I remember the landscape, wet and misty from the night’s excess. And, I remember repeatedly scraping mud from the bottom of my boots as I slid through the morning’s work. I took this photo when I realized I was wearing a large chunk of North Dakota. With my newly established fashion sense, I might fit in at the 2 7/8.
A small boy on a big horse moving cows in the Pueblo Mountains
Three riders moved slowly across the landscape, deliberately but unhurriedly they paralleled my path in the opposite direction. I watched the horses with some envy as I continued on foot.
It was July in the Pueblo Mountains. It was hot. I had been walking since dawn; it was midday now. I was out of water, out of food, and out of patience with the shadeless glare of sun-soaked sagebrush.
From a long way off I could see the horse. Even from a distance, I could tell it was a big horse. The rider was just a red dot. Eventually, the red dot became a person, a boy. He rode a few loops, lazy figure eights. He backed up the horse, made it stand and side step. Then he just sat and watched me approach.
“Where’s your horse?” the boy asked with unaffected curiosity and genuine concern.
“I don’t have one.”
“How far did you walk?”
“I don’t know. Several miles. I started at sunrise.”
“That’s a long time without a horse.”
“Yes.” We stood a minute, he on his horse, me looking at the ground. Then, diverting him from my obvious failing, “That’s a big horse.”
“I know. 17 hands. My dad told me I had to grow enough to get on him by myself before I could ride him. I’m only 7. I can’t grow that fast.”
“But you’re riding him.”
“Yup. I told my dad he better build me a ladder.”
“I saw three riders earlier. Was your dad one of them?”
“Yup. And my mom and sister. They said I wasn’t big enough to muster so I had to sit here and wait for them to push the cows to me. Then I can circle and ride them down the hill. We’re moving them to water.”
“You’re not big enough to muster but you’re big enough to sit this giant horse out here by yourself for however many hours it takes for them to come back?”
“I know. That’s what I said. But I lost that argument. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have anything to do.”
“You need a book.”
I had miles yet to cover and parted company. He sat his horse and watched me walk on.
Later in the afternoon, I watched from a slope above as the cows came, moving ahead of the three riders. The boy rode to meet them, swinging far to one side of the cows and then falling in with the other riders. He waved as he passed below me. And I took this photo of him, his mom and sister, the dust, and the cows, a scene of the west.
Extirpated from the wild in most of Africa, I had the good fortune to see black rhinoceroses on a private preserve in Zimbabwe last year.
Finding them after dark, a spotlight illuminated a calf scampering about behind its placidly eating mother. Her horns were cut off to deter poaching and the animals are under 24-hour armed guard.
The black rhino population dropped from an estimate of several hundred thousand in the early 1900s to 2,410 by the late 1990s. The primary cause for this decline is poaching. Several subspecies are extinct.
These photos are fuzzy and full of nighttime darkness and shadows. At first, I was disappointed by them. A year later, they seem to appropriately suit their state in the world.
Wary of the light and strangers, a rhino calf hides behind its mother.
The mama rhino has been dehorned as a measure of protection against poaching. Her dehorned shadow is visible on her calf’s side as it moves behind her.
Rhino back, fade to black. What will the world be without rhinos?
The summer blues of Crater Lake and Wizard Island
For too many years Hart Mountain was out of my line of travel and added just enough extra time and miles to the trip at hand that I by-passed it. This spring I made the effort to go there, just there, and was well rewarded. It is a long slog from anywhere, the roads can be quagmires, the dust invasive, the heat crushing, and the mosquitoes draining. May it always remain this way.
Swallowtail and balsamroot
Looked down upon by a northern harrier
Subtle layers of color and texture
Bumblebee with balsamroot