Jagged mountains jut abruptly up from the sprawling desert floor, formed by rifts in the earth’s plates, the same way the more famous Grand Tetons seem to erupt out of the ground. The prairie stretches onward to the horizon, only broken by the darker green of timber forest at the mountains’ base. I have ridden across this entire meadow, but that concept seems unfathomable to me right now. Right now, this meadow is endless. It is everything I see, a vast flatness that I know to contain so much more.
This land is an expert in obscurity. It appears wide open, uninhabited, “the middle of nowhere”. From a distance, everything there is to see seems to be right in front of you. Yet, once you get into it, you realize just how far that is from the truth. There are lakes, ridges, animals, and tree-lined creeks masked by an illusion of nothingness, hiding in plain sight on the plains. Waiting to be discovered.
In my six months of riding this terrain, I’ve discovered something new every single day. Some days it’s a shed antler or a skull, or a new hatch of tadpoles stretching their new frog legs, or even a marsh where, before the last storm, there was only dryness. No two rides have been the same, even if I were to follow my own tracks. But tracking myself would be an improbability in this landscape. The winds are constantly shifting the sands, erasing yesterday’s elk and bison highways, which were already passed over by coyotes and jackrabbits.
Tracking hones the senses – where the shadows fall, how wet or dry the ground was when the animal went by, how long ago it passed, whether it was dragging its toe or limping or running. The light and darkness in just one imprint in the dirt can tell the story of an entire journey. It makes me wonder how much we could understand about each other, if we’d take the time to see the light and darkness in the people around us.
By learning from the land, you can learn about people. And in a valley the size of the state of Connecticut, the land will teach you a lot. It teaches you what truly matters, life lessons that can’t be replaced by any other teacher: respect, after a storm blows in and chills you to the bone; humility, when you’re reminded of your own smallness and how many things are bigger than you; and patience, waiting for the weather to warm up in the spring or cool down in the fall. All of these values are invaluable across the board when dealing with human beings, and being a human yourself.
Yet, each person is a small, vast landscape all their own. There is no one way to get to know someone, all the arable and arid places that make up their soul, all the tracks on their heart that they’ve gathered along the way. It takes time and miles and investment and understanding. Within each landscape, and within each person, there is always more to see, no matter how well you think you already know them. So look beyond the way things appear, and delve into the discoveries that each day can bring.
“Life is like a landscape. You live in the midst of it, but can describe it only from the vantage point of distance.” – Charles Lindbergh
“The nature of your beauty puts my mind at ease.” – Your Majesty, Zac Brown Band
“I will touch the strangest faces, till they’re not so strange to me.” – Strange Faces, Daniel Romano