A friend from Saint Louis came out for a week’s visit. Laurie is a doctor but writing a novel and she needed a little peace and quiet, so we offered her the bunkhouse. The bunkhouse is hardly peaceful or quiet, given the fact that it is attached to the dog kennel and the mews, where I keep the falcons. We told her what to expect: Dogs howling at the coyotes most of the night, falcons eechipping every time they saw me crossing the yard.
She would have to be careful when she took her diminutive Pit Bull on walks. Pit Bulls are not familiar to me. “We don’t want any fighting.” She laughed, “Snickers? She’s far too shy for that. Scared of her own shadow.” And she was right.
At first light on her first day, when we usually walk all six dogs for a mile or so, Laurie and Snickers stayed out of sight. But, by the second day, I noticed Snickers standing alert in front of the bunkhouse, watching us disappear up the hill. Laurie stood behind her dog and looked out from the ranch buildings to the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands where our buffalo spend the winter. It was difficult to imagine them living in an apartment on the third story of a gray, Saint Louis building.
Laurie and I talked about the land on the other side of the river. It is a de facto Wilderness Area of tens of thousands of acres nearly devoid of all sign of human habitation. I had just watched a Patagonia film, Unfenced, about the Red Desert and it’s struggle to remain unmarred by development. Our little wilderness is fortunate not to have known resources that humans might covet. It is not as big or rugged as the Red Desert but it satisfies the same longing in the heart of everyone who comes in contact with it.
“How far would you have to walk before you came to the road,” she asked as she pointed out to the east. “Over ten miles,” I said. “We could go out there, but we’d have to walk.” She smiled. “No,” she said. “Snickers and I are city girls.” We looked around for her dog and I caught sight of her, chasing my big English Setter over a hill to where he had once found a covey of Hungarian partridge. He had never forgotten that covey of partridge. Snickers sensed the excitement and was in hot pursuit.
The morning Laurie left to go back to St. Louis I caught her standing in front of the bunkhouse and again looking out at the National Grasslands. “Got chapter two done,” she said. “That’s great,” I said and pointed toward the other side of the river with my chin. “If you were staying another day, we could go out there.”
She smiled. “No. I might end up as shy as my dog.” She pointed to where Snickers was running amuck with the other dogs, and Laurie shrugged her shoulders. It took her a few minutes to get Snickers talked into hopping in for the ride back to Saint Louis.
She glanced out again to the National Grasslands. “Maybe next time,” I said.
She shook her head. “Need to get back to work,” she said, then her head began to nod. “But it’s wonderful to know that it’s out there.”