The behavior of men and elk…

Out here on these acres of ranch land there are things I know are there and places I roam everyday. I know there are cattle somewhere between the east and west pastures, if the sneaky animals haven’t found a hole in the fence. I know that if I let the pug out too early in the morning without a bowl of food he will high tail it off down the red road to my parent’s garage where his girlfriend lives with one of those automatic dog feeders.

I know how to catch a horse and where the creek winds. I know where my favorite birch tree lives….and my favorite oak. I know there is a pair of geese that live in the dam in front of where we will put our new house. I know that they mate for life. When it comes to chokecherry picking, I know where to look. The same goes with plums, raspberries, tiger lilies and Christmas trees. I know who rides what saddle and to expect my pops, if he’s home on the weekend, down in the horse pens as soon as the light and weather will allow.

These things I know, these places I have shown you. I have taken you picking those berries, cutting that Christmas tree, down through that winding creek. I have introduced you to my favorite tree and shown you a photo of those geese. I have complained about the pug. These are things I can speak to, I can describe adequately and take you along through words and photos and feelings.

But on Friday evening as I saddled my horse and followed husband out of the barnyard and down the road to meet pops, I realized I haven’t successfully explained or portrayed to you my role out here on these rolling, rugged acres among the men of the Veeder Ranch.  Especially during a season that calls to their inner mountain men, that keeps their eyes wide open, their ears perked, their binoculars close to their sides and rifles tuned.

Yes, it’s nearing hunting season, and if I was ever a tag along, a nod and a “uh, huh” or “yeah, sure,” in their lives during the rest of the year as they explained to me where the fence was down and where the cattle were out, how to manage the water tank situation, how not to run over the biggest rock in the yard with the lawn mower, or where to stand and how to wave my hands when helping one of them back a pickup up to a trailer, ’tis truly the month for observation now, for quiet cheering, for watching these two men finally get a chance to play, to breathe, to flex their man muscles after a year filled with work and stresses.

So on Friday that’s what they did, we saddled up our horses and went scouting for elk–the elk that have been roaming in and out of our lives mysteriously all year, the elk that were behind our little brown house, across our road, by the cattle guard between the two places and then magically appear by my parents’ mailbox.

Because pops has his license this year, a kind of “once in a lifetime” chance at this majestic creature who he can hear bugling in his pastures in the evenings. But here’s the thing that I have learned about pops in my years of sitting next to him in the pickup as he leans his head out the window, his binoculars to his face…as much as the man is looking forward to the season and to the prospect of elk meat in his fridge for the winter,  what means more to him is the observation of this creature. He thrives on learning about their patterns of movement, where they water, where they bed down for the night, where they can be expected…or how they can be so unexpected.

And he wants to share in the experience, tell his story, see if he can show you the same thing. Which is precisely what we were doing on Friday as pops lead the way to the west pasture, talking quietly about how he came right up on these elk on Tuesday evening and got to watch them graze and hear them bugle from nearly 250 yards away. It made his month, that encounter, and he intended to find them again.

To watch.

To learn.

To listen.

And so I followed as the two men lead me down through the creek bottoms, up a rocky pass  across a grassy pasture and through a draw to the top of the hill where pops expected he might find the herd again. I followed as they whispered about guns and bows and where husband shot his whitetail deer a few seasons back. I watched them as they watched the hills, pulled binoculars to their faces, stopped short at the cracking of a tree branch or rustle of the leaves. They pointed things out to one another or stopped in a draw to whisper a few stories, pointers, to say what they expect or hope to see.

It as inspiring really as I moseyed behind, snapping photos and breathing in the fall air. These two men–one who raised me, one who I grew up with–have taught me things I may have never learned without them. Here they were, friends. Best friends out here under the sun that was setting fast and turning golden trees to dark shadows…best friends on an age-old mission, a ritual.

As we pushed our horses up to the top of the butte and dismounted, I watched as the two of them snuck to the edge of the hill, dark silhouettes of men out in an element that was made for them, silent and peering out into the big oak draws below.

My heart pumped hard as husband spun around with that expression I know means business and the two men nearly jogged back to the horses to get a closer look…they had heard the bulging and we were going to get a closer look.

Now here I would like to explain to you what that was like, sitting at the top of that hill with a herd of elk grazing and moving along the trees below us. I want to tell you what these men were saying and describe how the breeze was heavy, the light was low, how I was holding my breath nearly the entire time as the horses grazed behind us, listening for that unmistakable, mysterious bugle. I would have loved for you to be there, really, to learn a little about the behavior of elk in the men’s sporadic and enthused but quiet conversation about what they were seeing.

I could have sat there forever like that surrounded by good things, with the moon above and the grass under my body. I could have listened to these men in their best moments, watched these unsuspecting animals so far away in their habitat, doing what they do to survive out here.

I could have listened to those coyotes howl all night and fallen asleep under the stars at the feet of my horse.

That’s how I felt. 

This is what we saw…

And these are the sounds. They are something you may have never heard before so I wanted to share so badly. It’s nothing thrilling, no fast cars or complicated music, no political banter or celebrity gossip that you might typically find on an internet video. No. This is just the sound of quiet, of calm, of good men in awe of  nature, an elk bugling, coyotes howling and a woman listening…watching…observing the world through their eyes…

The sights and sounds of elk scouting with the men of the Veeder Ranch: