The location for our hunting trip was in Medino Pass near the Sangre de Christo mountains. It was just past Westcliffe, Colorado, a small town for farmers and ranchers. It took us about two hours to get there off I-25, and down the highway 20 miles, that ended with a five mile drive on a washed out, and washboard bumpy dirt road that jagged through some scenic backcountry, and ranches on both sides as made it up in the high elevation of Colorado wilderness.
The Colorado Department of Wildlife had marked it off as Unit 86.
We pulled up to camp passing through mile markers, and marked signs, but once in the land, that all stopped, and faded. The unit, the markers, the mileage, the names, and borders and boundaries. It was just unmarked land, wild and free. Natural wonders of meadows, and aspens, and pines that rolled, and hugged the landscape but with no marking but the places themselves.
I wanted to get the land straight. Get my bearings on it all. I was so easily prone to get lost. My topo map, which I was beginning to be able to read, had elevation gains, roads and trail markers, mileage units, and north-south coordinates which I brought to the men at camp.
In approaching Earl with this desire, he looked at me with a smirk, as his moustache moved a little up and to the left and said, “I’ve made my own map.”
Woody and Richard laughed.
I would find out what he meant by their stories. Descriptions like red gate. Upper Road. The fingers. Baldy. Buckskin. The zoo. Lower Road. And moeller were inserted in their stories as locations for events. These were not on my map. Not in the portable GPS unit. Not known by any hunters. Only known by these men. Like a secret tribal Indian language spoken by these guys.
Richard would say something to Earl commenting about the place where they shot that bull eight years ago, the 5 X 5 near the fingers, down through the meadow on the fence line. Earl would shake his head, and just agree, “that’s right, it was the same year I bought that suburban, 1985.”
I looked at them like aliens. These places were not on my map. And these memories were not within my head.
I was sitting with a map, filled with information and lines, and co-ordinates man had created to rule of and measure things for ease of use, and universality of all so we could speak a similar language, and I had never felt as lost. I had no memory, no experience, nothing to plug this terrain to understand these men. Just a red gate, and a meadow.
I asked Richard where the names came from. He looked at me a bit suspicious, wondering why I was so curious. Why I needed to know. He said he did not know. I wasn’t sure if he was lying or telling me the truth. A few hours before he said to me, “some secrets you don’t get to learn on the first trip.” I took that as my need to be careful on what questions to ask, as a young green horn hunter, but I fired this one away hoping to move into some more answers about this place. I took a risk.
He then paused, and said, “Maybe the cowboys taught us those.” I wasn’t sure who or where the cowboys came from and were. If there were ghosts, or real figures, but I looked at him, not sure what to say. And he seemed find with leaving me with that. Another que to let some of that go.
The thing about these names is that you couldn’t google “red gate” or “the fingers,” and get a nicely printed out map, with time of arrival, listed directions.
It was some place unknown to all. And I believe they wanted it that way. Whether the names either they had made up or been passed down by those they had learned the land from, the cowboys. The men they had been hunting with them, and using them for 25 years. One of those words put them right in that exact place in their head for the story, no map needed. The memories of days of walking the land, and knowing trees, and meadows, and turns in each valley. If I were a guessing man, it appeared the land had made its own markers through by their own memories of them for the last 25 years. They didn’t need the universal units made by scientists and mathematicians.
They had their own. Universal to Richard, Earl, Woody, Mike, and the Colonel. And foreign to hunting tourists like me.
It came up when I was fishing too. Ron would talk about his favorite holes in Eleven Mile Canyon. It wasn’t mile marker 5, it was called the Campbell Hole. Or the Meeker hole. Named after some very personal event, or person that had caught a fish in it, or by some image the area looked like to him. The entire Arkansas was filled with these places, only known by Ron, and his fishing buddy Vern. And whoever he decided to tell the secret too.
It seemed universal for man to name his world. In fact, God called man to rule and subdue, and name the animals at the beginning. He put that hardwired in us. And it wasn’t too long before man was doing just that. Naming and measuring away. We developed systems to count, and we laid out mileage, and borders, and boundaries, then genus and species, GPS coordinates, and before long, we had ruled and explored and named it all. We staked it off, started countries, fought over that land, and
those markers, redrew boundaries to name them and claim them as our own, again.
By the time most of us had come into the world, everything had been explored, and there was a place in the system we had created to rule over. It seemed the only remaining area in my childhood in the backyard of my neighborhood, but it was only two years before that got bulldozed for houses.
There was simply nothing more to discover or name or wonder about. We understood it all, down to the protons and neutrons from which we came. We had named and ruled it all. The world has been mapped out, with some lady now telling me what to do, where to turn, and somehow I just followed. Followed my entire life the names created for me, until I pulled into this long dirt road, and into the area called “the zoo.” I think it was the first time in my life, I was really lost in land. And it felt like one of the most freeing moments of my life.
It is one thing I came to appreciate about the men I was around. They did not abide by these rules, and others methods of measuring and naming. Those got thrown out. They found their own. Recreated them to fit their own needs. And what they saw and experienced. All of the rest of us seemed to be missing out, following some computer chip in a car, or on a map telling us where to go. For convenience sake.