Wednesday, June 1, 2011


In the desert.
In Arizona.

Six words. Three nouns. Three that bring on a mindset, a memory, a feeling. 

It all started with a chance to spend part of a summer counting cattle on Bureau of Land Management land. Land that the BLM allowed ranchers to use for cattle grazing. Not cactus desert, but scrub-oak desert. Creosote. Shrubs.

And our job was to do the cattle census.
Luxuries? Not likely. A partner, a tent, a warm sleeping bag (nights in the 40s), cotton long sleeved shirts (days in the 100s, no humidity), a water tank down the path, and a notebook journal that belonged to the BLM. My own notebook. And a few  books, novels mostly. Leon Uris. Annie Dillard. Terry Tempest Williams.

After our second day, I knew all I wanted to know about Dave, my census partner. Married (his wife trusts him), no kids. Third semester graduate student, no job prospects. May try applying at the BLM. He brought "The Gulag Archipelago" for reading. He didn't read much, but he didn't talk much, either.

Days were driven by imagination. Counting birds. Drawing rough sketches of animal footprints we'd spot on the dirt trails. Trying to figure out what the brands on the cattle stood for/described.

By the 5th night, I no longer dreamed of winning the French Open, of holding a tennis racket in my hand and throwing the ball up into the air, stretching into it with power as I served. No, by the 5th night, I dreamed of buzzards I saw circling before dusk. I dreamed of their flight. I dreamed of air, of thermals, of soaring. I dreamed of nature.

Two of us spent 3 weeks counting. Miles from civilization (human), we were only disturbed by the cattle as they wandered by. Most of the cattle were on their way to the water tank. So we rotated shifts, counting, reading, doodling, dreaming. After the first days, we hardly talked to each other - more likely than not, we talked to the cattle. 

Food and fresh notebooks arrived to us once a week by a guy on horseback. I recognized him from the BLM office in Tucson. When he arrived to our camp, he'd give us the latest news (abbreviated), ask if we needed anything, and then he'd collect our filled notebooks and leave us. During the first week of our census taking, I anticipated his visit. I looked forward to the horse, to the man mounted on it, to the fresh voice. By the second week, I dreaded his visit. He disturbed my senses. My ears were violated by his voice, my eyes by his presence. 

I only cared for the cold nights, for the smell of the sun baking the earth at mid-day, for the millions of stars at night. I longed for the activity of the flycatchers, the nuthatchs, the thrashers. Their calls and movements kept me alert, alive. The movement in the sagebrush entertained me.

I cared for the journey of nature.
In June.
In the desert.
In Arizona.


Stella said...

You have had lots of interesting experiences in your life so far!

I think more than 3 weeks at the cow count would make me completely bonkers.



Sandra said...

this is some story. the only part i would not like is the tent and sleeping bags. now if you could put a little cabin out there I would love it.

Cyndi and Stumpy said...

What an awesome experience that must have been!

Funny how two people looking at exactly the same thing draw entirely different experiences.

I love being miles from nowhere, but my senses require more green and more water.

Kathy said...

An interesting experience. I'm not sure I would have weathered so well.

Al said...

This is a great post - I could see myself enjoying something like that. But three weeks would be the upper limit of what I could take. And I'd want my iPod and a solar charger.

Thérèse said...

What an experience! Did you come back with all new feelings about Life?
Not being able to shower days in a row would drive me crazy and it still does in some situations...

Pat MacKenzie said...

I love the way your telling of the experience evokes mental pictures. I guess I'm too citified to enjoy roughing it like that.

Rohrerbot said...

Sounds like fun. I love it....I'm thinking right now....June. Why aren't the plants looking as good as they should? I'm a gardener and my garden looks terrible. Who stole my solar lights? Ah June:) Thanks for sharing your story. Hope you're having a good week.

Banjo52 said...

I like this post, BrAZ. It's clear from your blog that your attachment to nature has not gone anywhere.

One summer I counted cars on back roads for the state of Ohio. I think your counting venture was more romantic, eye opening, and worthwhile.

Pat Tillett said...

Except for the heat, it sounds pretty interesting. You've done a lot of interesting things!

Mary said...

Wow, I learn new things about you all the time!