In creating fiction a writer must know his or her setting, and I recently had the fortune to be invited for a flight in a small fixed wing airplane to tour the setting where my made up drama is unfolding.
Spanning three states, several mountain ranges and three well-known river systems, the Owyhee Plateau is big country, and stereotypically western country where ranches and old mining towns are scattered beneath big sweeps of denim-blue sky. The snows of the area’s high desert mountains have carved great gashes in the surrounding flat land, and oceans of sagebrush sweep as far as any person can see. With names like Bruneau, Jarbidge, Owyhee, Sheep Creek and Grasmere, it is a place very much captured in time. In many ways, from culture to politics to ecology, it’s a place that embodies the West.
And it is one of two central backdrops where my adventure is unfolding, a plot that brings together cowboys, forest rangers, Indians, Basque sheep herders and a long-unsolved mystery. Watch for this as-yet untitled novel in the coming year. The following excerpted scene takes place in Sheep Creek, pictured in the inset photo.
After about two miles traveling the rim of Mary’s Creek, Cade stopped to sip some water and drink in the view. He pulled a water bottle from his pack and sat on a flat slab of basalt. The canyon had grown from a small creek bed in a shallow valley into a deep crevice topped with hundred-foot cliff walls. It looked to be just under a thousand feet deep, and beyond to the south the Jarbidge Mountains jutted from the horizon. Jarbidge Peak was most prominent from Cade’s perch on the canyon rim, but behind it he knew were Mary’s River Peak, Cougar Peak and Matterhorn, the precipice where Miles Fourney left his last known mark on the world. The mountains were far enough away that they didn’t dominate the view. In fact, the only thing that dominated Cade’s visual sphere was the sky, which spanned from one horizon to the other. The mountains’ solid presence was a steadying force for Cade, but it was also a reminder of why he was there. He returned the water bottle to his pack and resumed his march as the sun slipped beneath the hills behind him. In another hour the sky would be black, and he’d need to be at Sheep Creek by then. He could navigate by headlamp if he needed to, but working into new country under artificial light was an adventure he hoped to avoid. He quickened his steps and relished the advancing cool of twilight.
When he arrived at a cliff high above the confluence of Mary’s Creek and Sheep Creek the sky had faded into purple-black, but the land was still cast in soft shades of gray. He gazed down a long slope of sagebrush to a dry delta of sand among willows at the confluence of the two creeks. As if on cue, he saw the flash of a match or camp stove flicker in the bushes and knew he had arrived at the right place. He located a notch in the canyon’s upper cliff and descended toward the willows where he began to make out a small, tidy camp. The spark he’d seen from the canyon rim was gone, and the willows were full of ink. He slowed and probed the space for watchful eyes, the sound of his heartbeat rising in the stillness.
“Hold it.” A feminine voice came from the willows.
Cade stopped and trained his eyes in the direction of the voice. Slender silhouettes of willow stems were all he could make out among the shadows.
“Are you Fey?” he called. “If I didn’t mess up earlier, I think you’re expecting me. I’m Cade, Cade Hale.”
Cade stood still for a little more than a minute and wondered if his hurried afternoon had produced a wrong turn somewhere. Then there was a rustling of brush, and a woman emerged with a rifle in her hands, its stock loose in her grip, its barrel drooping toward the sand.
“You never know when you’re this far out,” she said. “It’s late. Go set up yer camp while there’s still some light. Then we’ll get to talkin’.”