Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Piercing the Silence

Piercing the Silence

 Piercing the Silence was done out of my respect for the most important animal in my life. Elk have been a reason to get out of bed at 3:30 in the morning and drive the hour and a half to witness one of the most exciting moments in nature. Granted there are a lot of moments but this one actually sends chills down my spine just hearing an elk bugle and stalk around in his majesty.

You arrive in the dark at your chosen spot and pull over and park, you naturally have your coffee or in my case hot chocolate ready to await the dawn of that particular day. It is a magical moment and you are actually afraid to make noise for fear that it will break the spell.

Then you hear it, that awesome shrill and whistle or scream whichever way you want to describe it, even in the dark it is incredible.  As it slowly dawns and you are able to pick out shapes and distinguish between bushes and the elk themselves you see the herd of an incredible bull.

Often they may capture up to 20 or so cows to be their harem.  These magnificent bulls, often 6 x 6 or 6 x 7 which is counting the antlers on either side, are overseeing their herd and completely blind to anything other than a challenging bull or escaping cow.  I have been able to get many great photo's and store many emotional moments peeking into the dawn, awakening my senses in an intense way. Sometimes you are laying on the ground shaking you are so cold that you are sure that your camera is not going to focus but then you realize you are not cold but excited. I have hundreds of photo's but would not throw away one because they mean so much to me as not only memories but research material.

In this incredible moment all humans are trying to be respectful and stay within the limits of approach of these truly wonderful animals. Some cows have calves still at their sides even though they are ready for breeding again, my favorite picture is witnessing a cow nursing her calf among the confusion.

The bugling is most intense in these early morning hours but it continues until around 9:00 a.m. when they all begin to move either into the trees or up into the valley.  Some bulls may not have but five or so cows but as you look to the more experienced bulls and larger bulls you will find a considerable difference. To witness a fight over the cows is fantastic, most large bulls will not even put up with the challenge of a much smaller bull and just chase it away but a perfect match of horns may spar for quite a while and it is serious business. Often an older bull will find it does not have the stamina and back off after becoming injured, these will be the ones to either die slowly from their injuries or have a tough time once winter sets in again.

In Piercing the Silence I have tried to capture such a bull, proud, stately and in constant movement trying to keep his cows from escaping or other bulls from stealing one away. It is this time that I often wish I was a painter so that I could catch DAWN. The mist and fog that hangs over the mountains and trees and lifts from the valley floor as it warms is part of the fascination of my early adventure.

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