Torn Ear's antlers
This morning I woke up to the sound of ice hitting the bedroom windows, which made me wish I didn't have to get up. When I did finally convince myself to leave the warmth of the blankets, I saw that it was raining tiny little pellets of snow outside. As I was grinding my coffee beans, the pellets turned to almost rain, and by the time I had let the dogs out, and sat down with my coffee, it had turned to giant fluffy flakes of snow.
I made a blueberry buckle for breakfast, and then suited up to go outside. By then, it had turned to light snow. As I walked out the basement door, Deer Norman was standing in the yard and soon, Torn Ear appeared... without his antlers. He lost both of them overnight. It had been 18 hours since we had last seen him. The spots where his antlers were, were dry, there was no fresh blood visible. 18 hours is a long time to try and track down shed antlers.
Every year we go antler hunting when our bucks shed their antlers. Over the years we've found dozens, probably about 40-50 in total, from our bucks, from strange bucks... everything from freshly shed antlers to mostly eaten (by mice) ones. Torn Ear has been coming to the house every winter since I've been here - that makes 7 and he's about 8 years old. I've seen this buck grow for the past seven winters. It's hard to believe. He leaves every spring and I never see him again until September, sometimes November or December. But he always comes. He's like an old friend I can't wait to see again after life takes us in different directions for a while... in this case, the seasons.
Last year, when he lost his eye, we feared we would not see him this year. With the constant threat of hunters, predators, and also his age, we know very well that one day, we won't see him anymore and there is a good chance, we'll never know why. I prayed to be able to find his antlers, so I'd always have them to remember him by. Because I had major surgery in December last year, I couldn't get around when he lost them, although I did try in vain to hike twice to look for them, but my body and the snow stopped me. Kevin searched for them too, with me, and again without, but to no avail. The year before last, we found one of his shed antlers, but only one.
We have anxiously been waiting for him to shed his antlers this year - watching every day for it to happen. It always seems to happen when it's snowing out - which means the fresh tracks from his recent trails are always quickly disappearing. When I saw him this morning without both of his antlers - I knew there was a chance he had dropped them in the same area. Sometimes, when they shed one and hold the other for several hours - or a couple of days, the two antlers can be miles apart, which is usually what Torn Ear does. I quickly came inside and told Kevin, and rushed to the barn to do my chores.
Once my animals were fed and watered, I rushed home to find Kevin already out looking. I started at the edge of the yard, where the creek runs through, and where I saw Torn Ear come from this morning. There are dozens of trails, old, new, hard to tell apart because of the snow fall, and melting that has taken place over the past couple of weeks. It's easy to tell doe/fawn tracks from big buck tracks, but also mixed in you have a whole lot of turkey tracks (since we have 7 hanging around) and then the other usual tracks, coyotes, squirrels, etc. It's important to be able to tell which tracks are new, and which are old, and how new, and also how old they are.
I followed a different trail than the one I saw that Kevin had followed, and a while later we met on one of our trails, both worn out from hiking in the snow in all our heavy clothing. We came home together to get the mule, to get us further into the area Kevin had been scouting, back in a big juniper bush. On the way to the juniper bush, which is past the area we call the maples... In the middle of his sentence, Kevin pointed to a juniper area on the right of the road - across from where we were heading... he said, he had seen a trail go in there and we should look in there later. I flashed my eyes the way his hand was pointing, just briefly, and screamed.
I've spend a lot of time looking for antlers... especially in snow. We've spent hours, days, hiking, looking. You need to train your eyes to spot them because they don't always stand out - they are often buried in the snow, and for the most part, look like twigs, sticks, juniper roots...
But I saw an antler in a prickly ash tangle and before Kevin had hit the brakes I was out of the mule and running. I had my heavy clothing on so I wasn't worried about the nasty bushes that usually slice the heck out of me any other time of year. I grabbed the antler and pulled it out of the snow - only one point was visible... the weight of the antler had made it sink in the snow.
Just as I turned, smiling, yelling to Kevin, I started to say "the other one might be close by" when I looked to my right and there it was, no more than 3 feet from where I was standing. I tripped in the prickly ash bushes trying to grab it, pulled myself up and couldn't believe our luck. Both of Torn Ear's freshly shed antlers - they didn't have any time to be eaten by mice, porcupines, or to become weathered. He left them there, side by side... about 300 meters from the house.
I am so happy, I could cry. To me, this is a present both from Torn Ear, and from spirit... We'll have the antlers professionally mounted and we'll hang them in our home in a place of honor. This isn't because this is the reward of a great hunt, or even a great bush story, in this case, this is because this is a gift from a good friend, who has been in our lives for a very long time. It's a special day.
Kevin said he was proud of me for spotting the antlers - and I know I've learned a lot more about the bush than I realize sometimes, something I'm very grateful to him for, and to the opportunities I've had to learn. This is where my heart is, in the forest, and learning how to understand it and be part of it, has been what a great deal of my journey so far in life has been about. That's another reason that finding these antlers means so much to me. It confirms to me, in a way that I understand, that I am indeed right where I need to be, on the exact path I should be walking on.
the antlers were in this mess of prickly ash and juniper
Poor Torn Ear is not the big man anymore and other deer, even the does are bossing him around today. I'm sure he feels a little naked without his antlers... he'll get used to it, and he won't feel so out of place when the younger bucks shed their antlers as well.
Now I'm off to bake bread, and just remember how lucky we are - for a lot of things, but mostly for being able have friends that come in so many shapes, sizes, and species!