ASPARAGUS AND WILD HORSES

Now, with the arrival of spring, we cut stalks of asparagus growing wild in the sun-drenched airy soil along the irrigation canal. I discovered the more I cut, the more sprouted back. In season, we devoured so much our appetite became sated, to hold us over to the following year. This, too, is the way of nature.

The closest dot on the map turned out to be nothing more than an empty grocery, junkyard, and trailer court encampment — a feral cowboy, Mexican, and Indian agglomeration. I wouldn’t shop there for anything. Instead, we drove on past the local tribal long-house and smoke-shop. At the old railroad station, we turned right into a small Far West city where I envisioned hitching posts and horses rather than battered cars and pickups. In front of stores and taverns, the tumbleweed, glare, and hot noonday wind are no strangers. Saddle up and ride, partner.

Toward nightfall, in our orchard along the base of long sagebrush mountains aptly named Rattlesnake Hills, one black mass hovered behind our flimsy box. Countless light blue pinpoints overhead illuminated our tenant setup where it backed against the barnyard and skirted a gully. Concrete foundation slabs drifted toward some faraway disaster. We were surrounded by a low forest of apples, pears, peaches, cherries, and prunes. In the midst of thousands of miniature trees, each sculpted to increase the harvest, our view opened out upon two isolated apricot trees rooted in the gully’s embankment. I could look beyond, across the dusty lane at the bottom of that rut and up over outstretched orchards until the pale hair of bunchgrass on rounded Sugarloaf blocks a sunrise. In the early light of day, someone sang an unfamiliar thread that wasn’t not quite a sigh and not quite a guttural fuming, either. This plaint, fearful and broken, gave way to unspoken thanksgiving. Once familiar with this tract, I knew of a few solitary trees kept not for market but for the residents’ own delight. The single cherry tree covering the back of the wash house, which also encased the well and pump. That, and two winesap apple trees, are kept separate. Many winds tossed this orchard. Even the woodpecker holes under our dwelling’s eaves mystified. When I walked beside the irrigation canal and gazed out across the Lower Valley’s array of fruit trees, hop yards, river corridor deadwoods, hayfields, and meadows clear to White Swan, I sensed this was, indeed, the end of a road. We’d arrived where I was supposed to be. Rising distant and aloof, glacial Adams and Rainier peered over tawny mountains encircling the valley. Their icy cones returned my stare. Indians considered these two snowy mountains to be humanlike: they do resemble giant skulls, each with two creases between the highest crest. Below them, like a wall, western ridges rise six thousand feet, their tops splotched by dark woods rather than the snow I had sketched as a child. Sunset causes hazy bands to separate, revealing endless blue crests where previously only a single bulge had appeared. Closer, atop the summit behind our orchard, wild horses browsed. On the porch of their house, Wes handed me field glasses to help him make out untamed stock from billowing sagebrush. He explained that over the years neighbors’ horses have bred with free stock; other folks would lose a steed or two, which joined the pack. Unsaddled, they’d romp.

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