Homemade surprises.

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I spent a good two weeks away from this place. After our vacation with friends spent skiing down mountains in Colorado, I hopped a plane and met my mom in Minneapolis where we shopped at market for clothes and shoes and other fun things for her store.

It was a good hiatus from life that was sort of stressing me out, but it was sure nice to get home to the ranch to see how spring was shaping up.

Turns out it wasn’t really. Just snowing and cold. March went out like a lion, because, if you remember correctly, it came in like a lamb, so that’s what we get.

It took me a few days to get caught up on life around here, and then Easter rolled in and well, there it was, Tuesday afternoon and I had yet to take a look around the place.

Because it’s crocus season.

So after my work was done enough for the afternoon, I took a little walk out to see if I could find any that survived the melty snow.

But before I could even get outside our yard, I ran into these beauties…

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Yup, the elk came for a visit, down across the bottom of Pots and Pans, heading toward the dam right outside our door before they caught wind of me and this beast…

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And while I know the elk live around here, because I see there tracks on my walks, catch the places where they bed down at night or linger on a stray hay bale in the fields, it’s still quite something to see them right in your yard.

I took a breath and held it and watched as they ran away up over the hill, hoping that I didn’t ruin their plans for a drink. Hoping that they might come back later.

Then I took another few steps toward the little hilltops where my sister and I found the first crocuses last year. Searching the ground as I walked, moments later I looked up to find the rest of the herd following suit, another pleasant and quick surprise.

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These animals on this landscape are so imposing. In the mountains they look smaller, dwarfed by the magnificence of the peaks, but here on the rolling hills they are the kings, the largest wild animal you’ll find roaming free. And they take my breath away each time.

I wished there was someone next to me to witness it. And then I was glad it was just me.

I had been missing this place. Life and tasks and deadlines were getting in my way. I stepped outside to see what I could see and nature delivered.

But even after such an unexpected show, I was still thrilled as I always am in early April to see these pretty purple flowers again, reaching through barely thawed ground to promise me summer…

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Before getting rolled over by the gremlin of the farmyard…

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Oh well, to live out here you gotta be hardy. If anything, the crocus teaches us that…

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I’ve traveled all over the place, but home, at the beginning of spring, is still my favorite place full of the best sort of discoveries…

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Life: one damn masterpiece after another

I have a theory about this world we live in. I know I’ve said it here before, but it just proved itself to me again on Monday evening and I feel I have to share it once more.

Because there it went spinning outside the windows and walls of this little home in the buttes and I found myself catching my breath again…

because life is just one damn masterpiece after another.

And that is my theory, in case you missed it the first time.

Because on Monday evening after my day was coming to a close–a beautiful, 70 degree day spent cooped up in the house answering emails, scheduling, making phone calls, organizing and checking things off my list–I stepped away from my desk and moved to the kitchen to shift the cans in my cupboard and pretend to think about dinner–the next task. But just as I was giving up on the idea that I would come up with some sort of brilliant meal and heading toward the front door to fling it open and splay my body out on the deck to catch the last afternoon rays, I was met through the window of the door by pops, wide-eyed and looking urgent…

the first human person I had laid eyes on for a good twelve hours.

“Whew…hey there…you scared me…whats up?”

“There are elk on the hill right across from the house…just saw them as I was driving in…a bunch of them…”

“Really?”

Here is where I will explain that before I even uttered the word “really” I was already heading for my boots, snatching up my camera and throwing on a hat…

…and pops was already in his pickup, behind the wheel and shifting into drive.

That was all the exchange we needed right there.We knew what we were going to do.

Because elk are still a rarity, a treasure, a bit of an oddity on this landscape and we needed to witness this, we needed to get in close and watch them pass through our world.

So as the fluffy clouds rolled on over the farmstead, creating patches of shade and sunshine on the brown ground, pops and I bounced along in the green Dodge, turning off of the road and toward the elk herd–a site that would have gone unnoticed by eyes less trained and in tune to the landscape.

See, pops is the kind of guy who is always looking. After years spent as a rancher the man is always scanning the horizon for something amiss, something important, out-of-place or occasionally, if he’s lucky, something spectacular.

And Monday he found the spectacular and chose to share it with me.

So in the green Dodge pops drove toward where the wind was right so the elk wouldn’t smell us. And when it wasn’t advisable to go any further with the pickup we stopped, opened the doors and stepped out into the landscape.  As soon as the doors latched, just like that pops was on the hunt and it was like I was twelve years old again walking behind his strides in his footsteps as he snuck up on a big buck–always so eager to come along, pops always so willing to allow me the experience.

Over the fence and along the side hill we reached a point where we had a spectacular view of the herd and I snapped some photos while pops counted and recounted under his breath…”three…four…ten…seventeen…I think there’s about seventeen, eighteen there Jess…”

We sat there watching the two bull elk as they moved toward the rest of the herd, discussing whether they had antlers, using my telephoto lens as binoculars. We watched them graze along the flat below the clay buttes as pops explained to me in a hushed voice the way elk graze and what kind of grasses they eat.

I am not sure how long we sat before pops made the decision to get closer, but seeing that the beasts didn’t suspect we were there he took off at his hunter’s pace down the steep hill and along the muddy cow trail before leaping, without pause, in his cowboy boots and spurs through the wide and moving creek.

I followed diligently, a good ten steps behind, wondering how close we would get, wondering if we would spook them, wondering if the herd would be there when my ponytail appeared over the clay knob.

Pops slowed his pace and stepped softer.

I did the same.

He crouched down.

I crouched down.

He stopped.

I froze and held my breath.

“The two bulls, they should be right over there. Right over that knob. Get your camera…go ahead…you should get some great shots…”

I looked at him, little sweat beads forming on my forehead, and for a brief second (because that’s all the time I have in situations like this) I wondered how he was so sure of the exact location. How was he so certain after a fifty-mile-an-hour trip through brush and mud and a raging creek?

But it didn’t matter. I believed him. Because in my experience with pops and things like this he is always right.

Always.

And he was right again as I flung my hat down in excitement and crouched and belly crawled and peeked my way over the knob to find before me something I had never been so close to in the wild of my backyard in all of my 27 years.

I was shaking as I pulled the camera up to my face, certain that the beasts were going to bolt at the first click of my shutter.

But it was as if I was just a little breeze, a bug in the grass as the mighty bull elk lifted their noses at the sound.

I clicked and took a few steps closer…

and clicked again.

The elk froze, looked me directly in the eye…and nuzzled each other.

I looked back for pops, whose black hat was peeking over the hill. He nodded.

Encouraged, I put my sites on a bald bump in the landscape, thinking if I could lean in on that I would be close enough to almost reach out a give their noses a scratch.

I snuck.

They stared and snorted a bit.

I crawled and crept until I reached my destination, laid flat out on my belly and clicked my camera in a panic, certain now that they were going to run from me at any moment.

But they stayed.

They looked.

I stayed.

I looked.

And although I know it wasn’t possible, even from my ideal distance, I swear I could feel their warm breath…I swear I could smell the dust on their shaggy coats…I swear I could hear them sniff the air as I held mine.

I swear I have never been so close to something so wild.

We sat there like this, the three of us looking at one another, and the magnificent elk posed for me, taking turns walking in an out of my shot until I exhausted all possible photo opportunities and the elk were no longer curious.

And after hours, or minutes, or seconds, slowly and reluctantly we turned away from each other, sneaking glances back over our shoulders, wondering what we had just witnessed…

…wondering what the other was doing out here in a world that, just moments before, belonged only to us.

When I was growing up out here I never laid eyes on an elk on this ranch and as pops and I walked back to the pickup he informed me that, until recent years, the beasts never passed through this place at all.

And it makes you wonder where they are going, what the grass was like where they came from, how many women with wild ponytails they have watched sneak up on them…

and how long they will stay.

But mostly it makes my jaw drop in awe that while I am busy living my life between walls and windows and the nook of the barnyard, these creatures are living their lives, grazing, snorting, shedding, pawing, living and moving on through my backyard, into my life and out again, free and magnificent as the wild wind.

I may never be that close to the nose of an elk for the rest of my life and I could have very well missed it, just as I have most certainly missed them passing through dozens of times before.

But I didn’t.

I was there.

Pops was there.

We were there.

Right smack in the middle of yet another masterpiece.