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Shadowed Trails
From Arizona Highways, February 1976
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© Larry Toschik

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There is an hour of the day when labors should be put aside, when you can put your mind to other things, when you can extend your thoughts beyond routine and replenish heart and soul.

Here is such an hour. No matter where you are on the surface of this splendid globe you can, with the shifting of a thought and the turn of a page, be here among the sun-blessed ridges and canyons and streams and mountains of Arizona … a “million” miles from cares.

Did you know that if you were granted the ability to see all of this land, Arizona, from above at one moment you could, among your other observations, see elk in wild mountain meadows and deer, bear, antelope, buffalo, bighorn sheep, javelin, mountain lions, bobcats … and so man other varieties of wildlife from the southeast Sonoran deserts to the pine-blanketed highlands?

Did you know that there was a time when beaver pelts shipped to market from Arizona commanded highest prices? … or that, when men first explored the Gila River Canyon they spent perilous days fighting off attacks of grizzlies? … that wolves grew famous in their skill of plundering pioneer cattle herds and evading capture?

Well, the grizzlies and the wolves are gone. Their time had run out on them. No longer could they fit into the scheme of human development as the “Winners of the West” consolidated their gains.

* * *

On one trip into the hinterland we made camp on a soft spot of ground high enough from the wash to be free of flash flood danger. As twilight was fading, the campfire and Coleman lamp took over the lighting chores and I saw a quick furtive movement near my foot. In spite of the fact that I’ve camped out too many times to count I must confess that I still get spooky as night advances and if there is a full moon all the prehistoric superstitions fight to take over and I hunker closer to the fire. In spite of the fact that I jumped, the kangaroo rat that was investigating my shoe didn’t run off. So for a little while I enjoyed his little “busyness” around my feet. He even went under the bridge made by the instep of my boot.

Many of these campouts are serenaded by coyotes … mostly solo performances but sometimes by groups of unknown size. It’s a sound to make any field trip more complete. This hold-out from wilder days, harassed as few other creatures are harassed by men determined to exterminate them, is a grand link to a past when all this land was theirs. To hear them caterwauling and yipping under the full blaze of the Milky Way with Orion and the Pleiades glowing brilliantly and great stars pulsing light from a billion miles away is to become an integral part of all the ages past.

* * *

What is needed from us is the simple recognition that among the order of things the creatures of the wild have their rightful place. Whether they are hunted or not is not the issue … the issue is that whatever we do is, in the long run, the best to insure their perpetuity, and in the process bring interest and joy to our lives, glory to God, and a heritage to pass on to those who are yet to come.

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