Eye of the Beholder

WORDS AND PHOTOS BY Jillian Lukiwski


It’s astonishing to watch how society places so little value on the sage steppe of the American West. There’s an issue with how we go about looking and seeing, a problem with our eyes, a hastiness, an undiagnosed disorder, a rampant disease of superficiality, a general impatience that prevents us from using our sight as an apparatus that can lead us into appreciating and knowing the world around us.

The blatant disregard for the richness and beauty of this region can be seen in the shimmer and twinkle of beer cans festooning remote areas, the posted speed limit on the interstate highway of 80 mph keeping people in a hurry to get somewhere nicer, the nuclear waste disposal sites, and all the sons and daughters who turn their backs on their ranching and farming birthrights and leave the expanse of sagebrush for the city. I was not raised in this region, but I proudly live here by choice, and not with a stubborn spirit that seeks a test of endurance, but because I’ve had my eyes opened. I regularly tease out the answers to the riddles of this place. I am not bored. I don’t view this landscape as a wide-reaching sameness that touches the horizon in every direction. I see the steppe as an invitation to practice my curiosity.

As I write this, the pronghorn buck I shot this afternoon hangs from the rafters of my garage, cooling in the night air of early October. He surprised me on my way to a different location I had been scouting for days. I saw him in the distance, a lone figure, crossing through open range until he disappeared into a shallow sway in the land that I could never have guessed was there without the context of his form to reveal it to me. He dipped down into a mystery and out of sight. He became a secret in an alcove of sage. I cut the distance between us until I could see the tips of his horns above the glowing fescue where he lay on his bed, dozing and relaxed, just out of the teeth of the wind, in the benevolent autumn sun. I slithered closer still, until he was 40 yards away, and when he stood to shake the dust, I pulled the trigger and the final puzzle piece slid into place to create a circle complete.

The greatest thing hunting has gifted me, besides sustenance, is the elevated ability to look past what is obvious, to see deeper into the mysterious dimensions of a place. I have learned to value landscapes for what is not easily seen, for potential, for the promise of a surprise. I have learned a new way to see, and I am beginning to understand that beauty and value aren’t always easy to discern. They’re more often defined by what we cannot easily see, by what emerges at dusk, by conspicuous details most can’t consider.

This heightened perception takes practice and faith in the idea that there is always more to a place than what is proffered at first glance. I look deeper, and deeper still until I begin to see with my heart, with my intuition. I cease to be a person in a place; I become a mystery pressed up
against a mystery.


Drawing inspiration from the natural spaces Jillian abides in, she is a silversmith, photographer and writer when she’s not operating a small hay farm on Snake River in Idaho. She’s committed to revealing the indelible spirit of the West and takes her time most everywhere she goes, living expansively along the way. 



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