Fallow: —adj, 1. (of land) left unseeded after being plowed and harrowed to regain fertility for a crop. 2. (of an idea, state of mind, etc) undeveloped or inactive, but potentially useful.
This year no venison will fill my freezer. There will be no trips to the taxidermist or the meat processor.
The deer are safe from us this year, as are the dove, ducks and coyotes. The ranch is closed to hunting as a wind farm is erected, changing the shape of the land that I have come to know, love, and need . It is a ranch of firsts. My son’s first deer was taken here. This is the ranch that provided me with my first whitetail wall hanger, and my first Rio Grande turkey.
It is also a land of memories. Where I received a call about a tragedy that struck a friend and his family. Where one frigid December, I was the only soul on the place. I awoke to a blanket of snow, and hunted alone on a magical morning that produced no game, but a magically changed landscape and the silence that follows snow.
I can show you where I recovered every deer I have taken. Where I saw a family of gray foxes one cold morning, parents watching over their fur ball pups, oblivious to my presence . Where my son and I sheared a tie rod end on the truck and had to become shade tree mechanics, sans shade.
No longer will we pick our way across the ranch on tooth jarring two-tracks. Smooth, wide roads have been gashed into the rocky hills to accommodate large trucks and cranes. Enough familiarity remains to make traversing the property dream-like with snippets of recollection. Trails and landmarks are altered or gone. The rough edges of the place that defined it and made it comfortable like well seasoned boots have been smoothed. Tooth and fang now dulled.
In time the land will heal from the scars. Grass, shrubs and trees will reclaim some of the spaces they were scoured from. The animals will adapt, as the always seem to do. But I fear that the sense of wildness and remoteness that I craved about this place has forever altered. That saddens me in a way difficult to describe. The land is not mine, we simply lease the hunting rights on this 1850 acres. But I am intertwined with this land. Strong emotions and experiences have bound me to it. I do not own it; rather it owns me.
It is bittersweet to know that this is after all a land that must pay its own way or find its way to another owner’s hands. This disruption provides a means for the land will stay with the current owner, who has been good and fair with us. So perhaps this is a necessary evil. I am glad for the revenue stream this provides the owner. But in a small way I think I can relate to the cowboys who saw once open range parceled into sections defined with barbed wire, furthering the process of domesticating land once wild and free.
Perhaps my fears will be supplanted with excitement on the next opening day. Perhaps a year of lying fallow will reward us with new stories of a land allowed to rest that rewards us with a bounty. A bounty of friends, shared experiences, and new memories to share around the campfire, and to pass down to the next generation.