In exchange for cheap rent in an old ranch house on the side of the Grand Mesa I am supposed to do three things: watch the property, mow the grass, and, because I survey streams, use my knowledge and equipment to help Stephen census the water holdings he also owns in the valley. But the mower never materializes, and I waffle on the wisdom of using government equipment for my side-hustle, so mostly I just watch. I sit on the back porch and look over the old cars to the series of cragged, crumbling plateaus and escarpments that enfold the Plateau Valley. Cottonwoods follow a stream along the western border of my new lands; the eastern boundary is the crest of a juniper ridge.
The apricots in the yard are ripe, so I want for nothing on hot summer days. Barn swallows swoop perilously close as I sit on the porch, contemplating grass, watching the ranch with the feeling that it might all disappear if I look away. At 6:00 am one morning, a contracted cowboy and his daughters come on cinnamon horses, open the gates, and chase my (?) cows down the road. Now the grass grows long in their absence, swallowing deer as they tread silently through the pasture. Turkeys form precocious gangs of eight or ten but flee at the slightest glimpse of me. At night a diurnal flycatcher snares moths by the porch-light, surely an evolutionary leap for the species.
My view of the goings-on here is necessarily incomplete as I spend every other week away, floundering in fast water, deer flies, and lightning after someone else’s data, loving every minute yet still missing my side of the mesa. Colorado is vast country, yet luckily almost all of its ecological diversity can be seen in a short drive from the desert furnace of Grand Junction to the alpine meadows on the mesa top. Near the lower end of this continuum I am content to count the turkeys when I can, to follow clicking insects through the sage, to watch a family of raccoons harvest downed apricots in the twilight.