Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Deer and elk and coyotes, oh my!
Warm air and fog
drift along the soft ridgeline
Mornings are cooler now, evenings too. Rains visit at odd hours through the day, sometimes accompanied by summer storm's sturm und drang. The grass still green, but not as green as just a couple weeks ago, and on my walks I notice cottonwood and tuliptree leaves beginning to yellow and drop to the ground.
My heart turns to Colorado at this time of year. I love Colorado autumns....aspen, with their brilliant white trunks and limbs and bright gold silver-dollar-size leaves; elk and deer still grazing in the meadows and sleeping on the upper slopes of the high mountains but keeping their eyes on the coming winter. This is grouse season, too, those wily brown distant cousins to turkeys. How they startle me as they launch themselves into the air, bursting from their clever hiding place practically under my feet or next to my shoulder!!
I've spent many many weeks up in the flattops of the Western Slope, 35-40 miles off any known highway and a mile or more from any recognizable Forest Service road. And this season, as the world moves into fall, brings back fine memories of lying in the tall grasses, simply looking at clouds as they drifted west to east, sometimes not that far over my head. I'd listen to and enjoy watching insects, birds and all sorts of varmints as they crawled, flew, hopped, walked, scurried, scuttled and meandered their way in this high-altitude environment. Coyotes would eyeball me as they traversed a clearing with ears, eyes and noses just barely above the grasstops, on their guard lest I prove to be a threat.
One time my father and I went up in October to cut firewood (standing dead lodgepole pines make excellent fires). We planned it for a couple weeks before elk season. In two days, we felled and cut up enough wood to fill a '72 Blazer and the trailer it pulled. When he left to take it back to Boulder and get the hunting crew ready, I stayed in our camp, alone, for the next nine days, "holding the fort" for the hunting group.
I was blissed out. We'd hunted this area for more than 40 years so I was quite familiar with the terrain. I wandered among stands of dense black forest, crossed clearings from livingroom-size up to the area of a small town, hiked 1000' elevation changes several times a day, all just to see what new there was to see. I tracked an elk herd -- 25-odd cows and calves mostly, along with some yearling bulls -- and it was great fun. They'd execute their best groupsneak through the woods while I, knowing their habits, paralleled them from 50 yards or so off that backtrail. I was quiet enough and crept slowly enough that they didn't see me even though they knew I was somewhere close. I trailed them for a whole day, watched them bed down in the evening.
Then, one afternoon about 4 days before the other guys were due, it began to snow. And it snowed. And the wind blew. And it snowed and blew for a day and a half. When it stopped, the ground was blanketed with 22" of snow -- and that was where it hadn't drifted! When I emerged from the wall tent two days later, the world was completely changed - almost totally quiet, and sparkling with millions of points of light. I remember thinking to myself, "This is going to be quite a challenge..... and GREAT FUN!" It was both and then some.
(to be continued)
Bull elk watching me
beige fur and long sharp antlers
just wait for winter