In the Velvet

Yesterday morning, as the sun crested the high, snow-frosted mountains to the west, I hiked to my favorite meadow. No one else was on the trail that meanders uphill through the ponderosas and spruce. As I came into the clearing I heard the rattling of antlers. Seventy yards away stood nine bull elk, making their way from the meadow up into the higher country. One stood on an uplift of rocks, polishing the tongs of his antlers on a chokecherry bush. Two others stood facing each other with hooves planted, their antlers locked in an age-old battle of strength. Two others were sparring nearby, clacking their racks, backing off, then clacking again. The meadow reverberated with the sound of their rutting behavior. A week ago, I had seen this same bachelor group out in the horse pasture, their antlers a tender throbbing red then. Now, their six and seven-point racks shone in the morning sun, polished and lethal. They whistled into the daybreak.

This morning, hiking that same trail, I encountered a young spike mule deer. He stepped onto the trail, then froze as he saw my movement. I stopped in my tracks, then glanced to his right. Just off the trail, fifty feet ahead of me, stood five more bucks - larger, and thick-necked, their antlers branching out like the limbs on the saplings that sprouted from the forest floor. Still in the velvet, these mule deer were as tawny as mountain lions.

We stared at each other, none of us moving, until finally the young spike tiptoed across the path. The older deer followed, stopping to stare, waiting for the telltale movement of a predator on the prowl, then moving into the trees and up the slope of the hill. Every once in a while, one would turn and we would lock eyes. They had more patience than I did. I looked down at the purple harebells growing on the path. A staredown and I had lost.

Finally, I moved on - down the trail, then out across the meadow where the elk had been. I found elk droppings scattered among the lavender lupine and the white yarrow. I walked to the rocky uplift and touched the chokecherry bush where the bark had been rubbed bare. The meadow was quiet, except for the call of a redtail hawk as I turned to go.


Susan J Tweit said…
Hi, Page,

Thanks for taking us on your walk into the world of male ungulates getting ready for fall mating season. (And we think human males have trouble holding their testosterone. . . .) What a treat to read about your encounters with the group of bull elk, and then the next day, the bucks. Life is so full of magic, and wonder.

Page Lambert said…
Susan, yes, life is full of magic, and wonder, and inspiring books like your soon-to-be released memoir, WALKING NATURE HOME: A LOVE STORY. Nature, whether it's a testosterone-filled bull elk or a first-time calving black baldy heifer, has so much to teach us. Thank you for writing so eloquently about the world in which we live.

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