My family’s land, a triangular two acres, lies between the 5400 and 5410 foot contours. The US Geological Survey map tells me this. I, however, know these contours based on physical features that know nothing of numbers and measurements of elevation, except through their expression of climate and life zone.
I know the bounds of this land by the irrigation ditch to the east, the one that runs for shorter and shorter periods each summer, the one that has supported cottonwood trees, so old now that we worry about them falling over on the house in the violent chinooks of January. To the west is the open pasture, grazed by Texas long-horn cattle. Six miles further on I am bounded by a geologic wall created millions of years ago by an orogeny that pushed slabs of conglomerate into vertical irons of rock.
Within the contours of my very immediate home I know the bunch grasses that grow in the yard, the dry soil, the bare patches of dirt where the rabbits take dust baths. There is the cottonwood where the raccoons live, the braches that the great-horned owls prefer, the tree where the red-tailed hawk perches to look for mice in the field below. I know the barbed wire fence along which we buried my dog after he was killed by coyotes in the front yard. There is the northwestern corner of the vegetable garden bombarded by falling crabapples when the time is right. There are voluptuous clouds of pink and white when the apple trees blossom in spring, the fluffed-up Northern flickers who huddle here during December snows, the views of the Indian Peaks where I watch the snowpack come and go, season after season. I watch these changes, always growing older, always more thankful for the immensity and beauty of these mountains worn down by glaciers and time, the same time that gnaws at my soul, erodes me and shapes me into the person I am: a person who is small beneath mountains with roots in dry soil.