By: Sydney Toni
ASC Landmark Crew member
Our day starts at eight o’clock (not sharp). As the rest of the crew gathers in the kitchen to pull together breakfast, or pull themselves together with coffee, I step outside onto the porch, its overhang held up by thick square beams straight out of a ski chalet. The sun has yet to crest the small hill that lies directly to our east, and I watch two white-tailed deer skip away across a nearby field. It’s windier than yesterday. I can hear the low singing of the wind in the creek bed as the prairie awakens.
Quick-draw: Landmark-trained eyes can easily spot the bison among the shrubbery
The whole landscape is an instrument, played by the air, the animals, us. The staccato burst of a flushed sharp-tailed grouse, a sustained pause between bursts of wing beats. The lumbering gallop of a bison provides the bass. The prairie is chopped up by notes and songs played again and again – the tracks that run in incomprehensible loops, with patches of snow cleared by foragers and our own footprints covered here and there by drifts. At dusk, the coyotes howl somewhere unseen. The joy in the Landmark project comes from moving slowly through the landscape, taking note of its routines and outbursts. We are the third year of walkers, seers, curious explorers. All we can do is attempt to be present.
The bison scattered into the hills as we neared
The seeming unpredictability of the non-human world is what draws many of us outside. Time feels vivid, even after dragging your boots up a series of snowy hills that mark your ninth mile of the day. The world seems both fleeting (fumbled attempts to photograph the mule deer bouncing up the ridge) and bigger than time itself. Standing in the lee of some hills as other more industrious crew members retrieve data from a remote wildlife camera, I wonder if the coyotes are howling today for the pronghorn we saw duck under the fence not a few miles back. This hole in my knowledge – why do coyotes howl, for whom, whither– tugs a little at my anxious heart. I crave intimacy with this incomprehensibly vast place. And this tug, I suppose, captures the importance of spending time in wild spaces – if we never know, it is hard to care.