The Hundredth Meridian

Blood of Deer and Patriots

The desert smelled like September, acrid and dry.  It was the familiar high-desert smell, the smell of harvesttime without a harvest, unless you called the last thin cutting taken from among the willows along the creek a harvest.  In the dead season, all deserts smell alike.  Nothing was missing from the Mesopotamian variety but the smell of cooking fires and bottled gas, fresh bread baking, and, behind it all, lying here and there in pockets like a ground mist, the faint, sharp scent of cordite.

Upstream a mile from the hay field, on the public side of the rancher’s fence, a faded blue Ford pickup truck with two men in it stood parked a couple of hundred yards from where the creek had been bermed to make a watering tank for cattle.  The truck was angled so that it faced across the creek and a line of webby cottonwood trees toward the high, treeless bluff on the far side of the watercourse.  Though the bare hills, golden in the light of the falling sun, looked perfectly barren, the men in the truck continued to study them through field glasses.  They had been sitting that way on the bench seat for nearly two hours, having reconnoitered the area on foot in the forepart of the afternoon.

“I never seen better habitat than this,” Old Merle said.  “Where else you suppose deer are going to find water for miles around that ain’t within easy distance from the county...

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