Black on black the night sky pierced by Orion's crystalline stars and brilliant Aldeberon, the red eye of the Bull. That's what we see at our awakening. The high plains where naught but the light pre-dawn breeze whispers. All else is holy silence.
Its early October and the acrid, alkaline dust, its fragrance stirred into the pre-dawn dew. There’s barely enough moisture in the air to dampen the short grass prairie. We rise silent and speak little. It seems a sacrilege to shatter the magic, with coarse talk and light the gas lantern and break the spell.
In the hissing halo of light, the coffee boils in a blackened pot. The dark, caffeine heat steams away sleep. We dress. Blaze orange over camo clothes, which appears ludicrous, but we do it anyway. Its the law. The mental checklist : Binoculars, water, a stash of granola bars stuffed in pockets lined with memories of dove and duck and maybe a spring turkey, we prepare. Knives and rope and the bone saw, extra ammo and a hunter’s prayer are stashed in the fanny pack.
There in that India Ink black we stretch our senses. How far is far on this rolling dry, sandy sea where pronghorn run for the sheer joy born in their swift limbs, huge hearts and lungs.
The two long guns loaded, the chambers empty, stock butts nestled on the truck’s transmission hump, we ride east into the shadow grey and sullen red slit that defines the horizon. The slit widens and the light grows. Red rolls into muddy orange horizon clouds then rages, yellow-orange in a furnace ablaze. Once the sun breaks the Kansas line, once color defines winter wheat from fallow ground, there the realization is hammered into our souls of just how small we are under the rising blue dome and the long, long sight to only a farther distant line. Distance. It pulls at the mind and psyche, so far a distant shore on this prairie sea. We question our senses:
" Is it a treeline or a fence or a break where sudden summer storms cut a deep arroyo? "
That question is moot when the first flash of a white butt in the midst of green winter wheat sends a semaphore signal. The hunt is on!
We stop, binocs to the eyes and we whisper. What is the best way to approach these prairie ghosts, speed goats, pronghorns in the shimmering air maybe a mile away. The small herd paws and feeds on a long gentle rise, their eight-power eyes ever watching. The sun dumps heat into the earth and it radiates up. Thermals cause the wind to grow and the air to glisten dry and brittle. There is no “best” way to approach, no cover, no fence line to follow. It’s a matter of chance and a slow low walk until its time to crawl in the dust and burrs and cactus….Perhaps a futile stalk, at 500 yards a sentinel may snort and before a round is chambered, they are gone, dusty memories over the rise. And, its only 7:30 in the morning.
Yes'sum, I know the sunrise.
Did we finally harvest? Yes…after nearly two full days of scouting, glassing, stalking... and swearing as another set of white fannies vanished in the sparkling air, over an unseen horizon. We caught a pair somewhat unaware and as they dove under the barbed wire fence we rolled out of the truck and, fence posts as shooting platforms, we shot within seconds of one another and dropped two goats.
Gutted, hung on the tripod and gambrel, skinned, washed down with water and cooled in the fresh wind, we packed the carcasses in ice. I turned and took a pic as we readied the truck for the journey home...and realized.......
It's impossible to capture the breadth and depth of the prairie sea and the wide, high skies overhead. One must be there, awaken to it and walk in it to fully know, if it is possible to fully know the overwhelming feeling of the open prairie.
God must rest from his labors in places like this.