The snow lets up enough to give hope for the promise of sunshine and mud just as I step into the saddle. I roll up my waxed down jacket, tie it onto the back of my saddle. I know I will need it again soon. Once more, off to the high country to check on a camp, to see about damage from the snow and a bear. I imagine there will be little problem from either one. I fear more the slippery trails and the footing of a fresh horse.
I ride alone today, though not truly alone as I am with my little stud horse. At first, there are wide and sloppy tracks of an earlier wander out in the storm, an ATV that had broken through the fresh snow up to the creek crossing, two miles up from the ranch.
We cross the creek and fresh tracks disappear, only the shadow of tracks from the elk plentiful under this new layer of snow, a stark white path before us. The elk have been moving. Down the mountain, they too know winter is coming on fast. Further up the trail, we spook up a cow and calf elk, alone and frightened. Their herd has descended without them. The baby is small. I wonder if they will make it.
In the middle of a squall of snow and freezing rain, I hear the song of the grosbeak. A bare and barren tree decorated as if for Christmas with their beautiful voice and red heads like jewels in this cold, dark mountain land.
We ascend to an elevation of about 11,500 feet. The snow is not as deep as I feared and seems to be letting up. Another break in the clouds. I can see up to the end of the canyon, shades of white and grey and black timber. Layers of mountains, layers of clouds. I am swimming in this wild sea of rock and earth as I turn my pony back down and follow our solitary tracks home.