“And so I became a public lands sportsman”

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series on the importance of public lands to sportsmen and women

By Tom Reed

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]he was the oldest of three remarkable women, all of whom in their own way had a profound impact on my life.

She first rattled west in a 1914 Cadillac. I think about them sometimes; all crammed into that open car, the hot, oppressive Iowa wind in their hair. The cool sweet mountain air of Colorado must have seemed like heaven to her. She dreamed of owning her little piece of heaven. One day when she was in her late 50s, she accomplished just that, purchasing a ranch with insurance money from her husband’s suicide a decade before. She had been looking a long time, but when she and my uncle set foot on the place, they turned to each other in the cold autumn air and steamed out: “This is it.”

We knew everything on the place by a name: the Big Spring, the Upper Forty, the Beaver Ponds, the Ridge, the Southeast Meadow, the Lumber Camp. These were places I explored and came to love as deeply as one loves a lifelong companion, a good bird dog or a fine mountain horse.

The place was 360 acres of Colorado high country and prairie. Vista and close woods. Aspens and huge Engleman spruce. Some called it The Ranch, but I knew it simply as Ginna’s.

Most kids when they grow up know their grandmothers by simply the tag, Grandma. But Ginna insisted on being called Ginna, short for Virginia. My mother’s mother was a short little bit of piss and vinegar, probably in her 60s when she made the biggest impression on me. She loved the land, loved the high country.

I spent my summers at Ginna’s. I killed my first deer there. I camped out alone for the first time there. Hunted elk there. Went fishing often. I saw my first wild turkey, first bobcat, first nighthawk. In many ways, I am still there, although I haven’t been back in decades.

I can never go back physically. I cannot bear to see the land as it is now, for this private ranch in some of the prettiest high country in the prettiest state in the Rockies is bound to have changed. In the late 1970s, when my attention was turned to things like muscle cars and fishing and hunting and girls, I lost that family ranch and I lost my connection to my own private hunting and fishing preserve. One day, late in that decade, I became a public lands sportsman. It wasn’t my choice.

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