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I've Got a Girl Crush

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Yep, I stole the name for this post from a popular song. I first heard it on the Grammy Awards show and was smitten. If you don't already know it, I think you'll like it.

Interesting that many country radio stations won't play this hypnotic waltz, because some listeners accuse stations that do give it airtime of "promoting the 'gay agenda'." Good grief. It's a song about longing and disappointment, tinged with jealousy; it's a song about yearning and grappling with rejection. It's a song with multiple edges, co-written by the brilliant Lori McKenna, Liz Rose and Hillary Lee Lindsey.

But I digress. When we last left Ms. Zickefoose she was gasping at the beauty of a certain doe, hoping hard she'd see her again, and be able to photograph her in decent light.

Sometimes dreams come true.  The very next morning after I took those photos of the doe on alert, I raised my east blind in the bedroom, to give me and the orchids some light. I made the bed and came back to the dresser for clothes, looked out the window and saw THIS. Oh oh oh oh oh!! Four deer with black briskets!! Could it be...?

I took off like a scalded ape for the studio where my Canon lives. I have this special run that I do, very rapid small steps, turning corners on two wheels, coming back with a death grip on the big rig, skidding to a halt and shooting out the window. It probably sounds like there's a gigantic squirrel on the roof. 

One of the Blackbrisket fawns was a buck. See his furry button bumps? An older doe is standing behind him, her coat grayer than Mama's. His grandmother? My mind was racing.

One of the fawns was a doe. Both were built like their mama, tall, long-legged and clean-lined. 

They moseyed about the sideyard, heading in a leisurely way toward the main meadow. Heaven. 

The doe fawn and her mama, ears canted exactly the same way, in step with each other. Me and Phoebe, noticing all the same things, alert to it all.  The resemblance between the two, uncanny. 

And the little buck, with the same beautiful lines, great big intelligent eyes and perfect proportions. 

And along came Mama.  When I looked at her face, I heard the angels sing.

Y'all know I love Buffy and Lord knows I loved Ellen. Neither of them perfect by any means. Perfection is not a prerequisite for my love. But I am, in the end, a slave to beauty. It's what I chase down most of every day. It's what I get out of bed for. This animal makes every cell in my body sing Hallelujah. 

You'd think that all deer are pretty, and they are. But there's pretty (Buffy)

and then there's this doe. This doe is Sophia Lauren,  she's Jessica Lange, she's (desperately updating myself) Blake Lively. Her eyes, the bones in her face, her proportions, all perfect beyond perfect.  I thought about her for a couple of days before I came up with her name. 

It had to be Jolene. 

If you'd like to hear Dolly Parton's gorgeous ballad, there's a version from January, 1988 here.  And dig that amazing dress, and her theatrical delivery!  I really prefer the 1973 version from the Porter Waggoner show, though. There's a sweet, pleading sadness in that one, a purity, and pain undimmed by theatricality and swagger. Ain't the Net a wonderful place?

I was talking about deer. Music is always wanting in.

 I found one tiny notch in her right ear, halfway down the curve. Not that I'd need it to recognize this exquisite creature, but at some point I may need to distinguish her from her beautiful daughter.
Here they are lined up, and I want you to look at the topline on this statuesque doe. Straight as a Kansas highway, no tuck-under at the rump.  Her coat is luxuriant and dark. If whitetails were bred for excellence, Jolene would be a founding doe. She's as good as they get.


Let's take a look at the older doe, appearing here in the lower left of this photo. She's hanging closely with the group. Her coat is grayer, lighter, but there's something familiar about her lines and her face. 

She can only be Jolene's mother. All the beauty is there, the slightly slanted eyes, the long face, the proud carriage. She's seen a lot more seasons than her beautiful daughter. And now she's helping with her grandfawns. Yes, these are all guesses on my part, but what's the harm in building a story on what I'm seeing in their faces, in the line of their backs and the length of their legs?

For now, I’m drinking them in. I never know when I’ll see these animals again. I never expected the Blackbriskets to walk right under my bedroom window, the day after I’d finally gotten photos of them!

Look at the difference in coat color between dark Jolene  (grazing at left) and paler Grandma (in the middle). Fawns are behind. Right there, she sticks out for you.

There’s such intelligence in Jolene’s face. She smells a rat, feels someone’s watching her.  She starts down the path and gives the signal to depart.

Jolene leads the charge down the lower path. All flags up!

I hate to see her go, but I love to watch her leave.

Having put a sufficient distance between themselves and the imagined threat, they stop to reconnoiter. Jolene’s tail is still flared. What a long-distance signal flag that tail can be.

I’m grateful for this rare and perhaps never to be repeated chance to document Jolene and her family at close range. 

 I can only hope we meet again.

Love at First Sight

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

I first photographed them on January 25, 2017, way out in the meadow. I could only see enough on them to know I didn't recognize them: three deer: a doe and twins, with black briskets. Black briskets are something I see in deer now and then, a trait that seems to run in families. They show up well in poor light and at a distance. I have to think such distinguishing characteristics help deer tell each other apart when they're too far away to pick up scent.

The doe's in front. Mark her're going to see her again.

On January 29, I spotted a fawn in the meadow along our driveway just before dark. It looked like an Ewok to me. I couldn't miss that black brisket in the gloaming!

Then it turned and flounced away,  tail wagging side to'll remember this photo.

February 2.  I'm walking out to catch the sunset which is doing some very nice herringbone patterns in cobalt violet and indanthrone blue with a peach underlay when I decide to turn around and head out the driveway. Call it a little voice. I wondered if the deer family I was calling The Blackbriskets might be there now.

I can't believe my luck as I make out the backs of three grazing deer. The first one to pick up its head is a fawn. I notice wide black rims around its ears and an appealing face.

Next, the doe stops feeding to see what her child has noticed. The second fawn is still oblivious.

Mama's partially obscured by branches, but as she comes to full attention, she stops my heart and takes my breath away. She's big and rangy and smooth and oh my gosh she's beautiful.

Being a doe, she decides to investigate, and she moves forward a bit to get a better look at me as I stand perfectly still, my camera to my eye. She can't make me out very well. Good Lord. What a beauty she is!

She's seen enough. Her fawn has been whistle-snorting this whole time-PHEW! PHEWW!! which means "Let's get lost!"
They turn and run as a family.

I have no right to expect it, but I hold my ground and am thrilled when they stop and whirl around to have one last look back at me. What luck! I get all three in one photo again. Now I know that I've got two sets of photos of The Blackbriskets. And all I want is to see them again. I'm dying to photograph that doe in decent light. I've never seen anything quite like her. The word "Perfect" comes to mind.

Happy Valentine's Day! Are you as saturated with YOU MUST DO THIS OR MISS OUT hype as I am?   Sodden. A good reason to ditch social networking for awhile. 

Well. No candle-lit dinner on the docket. Who can afford that? Can't take chocolate any more. Keeps me up. Same with wine. And hold the dozen roses. I already grow my own. I'll take two of these peppermint beauties live and on the hoof over a dozen longstems.

Love what you've got.

Smuggled this back from Brattle Square Florist in Cambridge MA in early December. Couldn't leave it there.

Who needs cut flowers when there are live ones to be snorgled, great fat new buds opening daily?

Gardenia "Golden Magic" whose flowers age to bright yellow, who smells divine, a grocery store find from last spring.

                                                                      Bloom where you're planted. 

Four gardenias pumping out a heady tropical fragrance under twinkly lights,  little gas heater warming it all with Marcellus Shale special high BTU free gas.

 There are deer in the meadow, perhaps a timberdoodle dancing, too. 

That's a Valentine to remember.

The Zen of Shed Hunting

Sunday, February 12, 2017

This is how it feels to find a beautiful shed. "Shed" is what country folks call dropped antlers. You start looking for them in December, and you keep looking for them, off and on, all year long.
This was my first in years. Decades.  Found Feb. 6, 2015. 

You're walking along, and there it is. That's my favorite thing about finding them. Your mind can be a million miles away and suddenly it's right there, buzzing, every cell focused on this gift on the ground before you.

Chet, come back here and see what Mether found.

If you will look at my pawdyprints in the photo above, you will see that I already found this. Would you like me to bury it for you? It is fresh and it needs buried.

Sheds are gifts from the deer. Imagine growing such a fine rack of bone on your head, and then having it just fall off. Maybe it feels wonderful to be free of it, once the blood supply ceases and the bone deteriorates. Maybe they walk off without a backward glance. But sometimes I wonder if they wish they had a means to carry them around.

The beauty of shed hunting is it gives me an excuse to get out and cover miles in the woods and fields at the time of year when the skies are low and weepy and I tend to be, too. There's nothing that will light up your day like finding a shed antler. Or "shed," as we who hunt and find them like to call them.

There are all kinds of places you can take shed hunting. I have friends who make a goal of finding BOTH antlers off the SAME buck. Now THAT is shed hunting. 

Fantastic as that would be, to me that's taking it a bit too far. It seems too much like hubris, to expect that you're going to be able to root around and find a matched set of antlers from the same buck. True, the hormonal and blood supply changes that cause antlers to drop tend to occur on both sides simultaneously, but what if he carries one around for another week before dropping it?

April 14, 2015. It was a good spring for shed hunting. This antler now hangs above my drawing table from a loop in a bit of monofilament. It's my back-scratcher. I use it many times a day as I'm working. I keep one in the bedroom, too, for those morning itches. Sorry if I just made your back itch. Had to reach for my antler and give myself a good scritching.

And one amongst the bluets!!~ I found two this blessed warm April afternoon. What could be more beautiful than polished bone in bluets? Ahh, April. Come she will.

You can carry shed hunting well into spring. You hope when you find them they still have that polished bone sheen that makes them a smooth delight to handle. Old weathered antlers are referred to as "chalks" and the weathered chalky surface means they aren't near as nice to hold. 

April 16, 2015. Just two days later, I came upon this magnificent antler partially buried in rubble beneath a barbed wire fence crossing. That makes sense, that it would fall off where the buck either leapt or struggled through wire. Sudden jolts, as in jumping, or impact with objects can jar them loose, help them fall. But only when they're ready to drop anyway. And that time is anywhere from January through April.

I took a four-mile hike yesterday down into Dean's Fork. I say "down into" because Dean's is a deep holler. When I began my walk at daybreak up top of the ridge, it was positively balmy. I was shooting without gloves! The snow was melting fast and I was seduced by the warmth and the gentle hints that there might be enough sun to go on a good hike. So I began my descent into the holler.

I had my long lens with me, which is a heavy habit I've picked up since surgery and shingles slowed me down in December and January. I figured if I couldn't go at a decent pace, I might as well lug the big rig and come back with some decent shots.

As I climbed down, the temperature dropped and dropped. It was easily 15-20 degrees colder down by the creek than it had been up top in the hayfields. Snow still adhered to everything. The cold air had just settled in the Fork and was lying there, waiting for me. Brr!! Well, I was committed to the hike and it was beautiful, and best of all the mud down there was still frozen, making for much nicer walking.

I put up two big deer and something in the heaviness of their thudding hooves and their build and overall darkness told me they were bucks, though there were no antlers to confirm that suspicion. 

This is where the camera tells me so much. If you click on this photo you can see his nuts. Aha!

Big as he was, he floated like a butterfly. I never tire of photographing deer on the fly.

Further invading his privacy as a certified cervid paparazzo, this  handstand shot revealed even more. Do click to enlarge the photo. 

But the best? Click on this one to see his fresh, still bloody pedicel scar, February 12, 2017. There's likely an antler or two in that black raspberry thicket somewhere, and chances are I'm never going to find it.

While we're admiring him, check out his barrel chest and muscular forequarters. That's something you won't see on a doe. I'm getting better at sexing antlerless deer from a distance, but there's always more to learn. This kind of knowing is where hunters have it all over most naturalists, and why I love talking with hunters. They know things that you can only know by doing a lot of naked-eye observation, by getting your hands on the animal and inside it, too. 

Falling far short of learning by killing, I absolutely love the things I'm learning about deer just by studying my own photographs. I could never put together their stories or understand what little I do of their natural history, their social bonds, and their behavior without my trusty Canon 7D.  These big, fascinating animals walk among us, and they've got stories to tell if only we will slow down, stop, watch and listen to what they're saying.

Speaking of seeing...a nice set of fresh bobcat tracks from the little cemetery just a mile down our road, February 10, 2017. The forepaw (right) is just under 2" across, and the span between fore and hind tracks is around 8".

And dead fresh tracks from Feb. 11, on my way down into Dean's. My gosh. I looked all around to see if the cat was still visible!

And last evening, I just couldn't come inside. I decided to stalk deer out in our meadow. And it occurred to me that it was a little more than a week early, but it was just the kind of night--60 degrees and loamy--that a woodcock might decide to fly. Nothing but silence and distant coy-wolves yipping, until at 6:27 pm, the weak sunset still illuminating the west, I heard the twitter-fall of a single woodcock, testing the evening air. No peents, just a brief liquid song and wing-twitter, as if he'd been flying over and just had to take a quick tumble over this likely spot.

February 11, 6:27 pm, Whipple Ohio--the first woodcock flies.

It was a Hey There! from heaven, straight to my leaping heart.

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