Roger Marolt: For everything there may be a season, but not for finding elk antlers
Thank goodness we are at the tail end of that month-long period between skinning season and summer.
There’s so recreationally little to do in late April and early May around here that I start looking forward to mowing the grass. It’s not as bad as I’m making it out to be, but compared to the rest of the year, it does kind of stink.
When I was a kid, I thought the calendar delineations of the seasons were nonsense. I still do. For most of the world they are appropriate, but not in the mountains. The first day of winter is officially the third week of December? Sheesh. With any luck we’ve already been skiing for a month by then and there is no novelty left in making a snowman, that’s for sure. Spring beginning at the end of March? After living here awhile you understand we have barely passed the middle of winter at that point. Locally, spring starts about June 15, summer around July 3, and fall commences on Labor Day. The rest of the year is a mishmash of seasonal confusion, but is mostly winter.
No matter what, though, our weather is postman-friendly, delivered neatly with a friendly nod. On the hottest day of summer, all you have to do is step into the shadow of a tree and everything is cool. On the coldest day of winter, shut your eyes and angle your face towards the sun and life is good. I can’t recall a single human death being caused directly by the weather here. Partying too hard has been the demise of far more locals. It would seem a stretch to include the weather as a contributing factor in that, but maybe …
Getting back to the in-between time of year when conditions are not perfect for the prescribed forms of recreation we do when it is, we have to get creative or get out of town. Since the latter isn’t an option in the Year of the Virus, we’ve had to engage our imaginations in order to get our bodies out the door.
My son came up with the idea of scrambling through scrub oak to hunt for elk antlers. Now, there was something to do that had never crossed my mind in almost six decades of life within a 10-mile radius of where I am writing this. I suppose the annual ritual of completely overlooking this opportunity is a consequence of being in a rut. Except for the ticks and the possibility of contracting Rocky Mountain spotted fever after they embed themselves into some hidden crevasse or fold on my body, I could think of no good reason not to partake in this novel activity. Obviously I had forgotten about nature’s tangles of branches designed to test the puncture-resistance of human skin.
I suggested standing in the meadow with binoculars and scanning the hillsides from there looking for antlers. It seemed more efficient than bushwhacking haphazardly through thick brush. In theory it was a great idea, but practice quickly revealed the stupidity of it. Finding a set of antlers hidden in the woods a half-mile away from a single, low-angle view through a device held by imperfectly steady hands was not going to result in spectacular yield or any yield at all, most likely.
So, we headed out in what I assumed was the old-fashioned way and began thrashing through the thick brush up and down the hillsides. Sure, we tore our clothes and our skin looked like we sponge-bathed with wire brushes, but that’s part of the adventure I suppose.
Even though ticks with the bacteria they carry can probably make you as sick as the new coronavirus, they can at least be seen so you can assess what you are up against. I think we got them all off at the end of the day. We can at least count that as a success; incubation time will tell. As for antlers, wouldn’t you assume they would be more abundant than elk carcasses? The animal only dies once, but should shed its antlers annually for quite a few years, right? That’s the working hypothesis we relied on. At any rate, we found no fewer than four rotting elk carcasses, twice stepping into them almost as we smelled them, but came up empty handed on the horns.
The good news is that our disappointment in utterly failing in this felt like a gift. We got home and hummed pop music tunes while oiling the chains on our mountain bikes.
Roger Marolt should have known that if hunting for elk antlers was truly fun somebody would have made it illegal until after the sweet peas sprout. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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What happens when the usual mental health fixes aren’t working the way they used to?