ANTLER TIPS

We rounded the wooden path, our noses bent towards our toes, as the naturalist we followed introduced us to the plants that are the foundation of Zapata’s rangelands. Rushes, grasses, sedges – hearty species who had seen every storm, frost, hard rain and sunny day on that gentle trail for ages. I listened to remember their names, as robins and flickers dove overhead and tucked themselves into the cottonwoods. Just standing still and pulling my binoculars to my eyes, I could follow them for a few crucial seconds longer to observe them close their wings, work their way up the trunks of the trees, and slip into safety. 

Slow. It was a glorious and rare pace. Zapata calmed my busy mind and invited me to notice everything else around me moving rather than be the one passing through. I liked being a naturalist for the day – binoculars in hand, with no other tasks but to learn from and observe the natural order of things. 

Lindsey scouting for wildlife with Swarovski Optik binoculars on the Zapata Ranch. Photo by Wes Walker.

We noticed antler tips in the tall grass to our right which made it stunningly clear just how deep the network of vegetation was that we were moving through. After his morning browse, a tall, mature mule deer buck was passing by in search of a shady refuge to spend the heat of the day in. I’d spent the fall searching for deer just like him and there he was – completely relaxed. It was special to observe him with no agenda. Aided by the binoculars, I could tell he was a healthy four-point. The shape and mass of mule deer antlers can express the genetics of the region and indicate their health. His were beautiful – typical antler shape, with small, distinct front forks. I wondered how many of the other deer in the area looked just like him and shared his genetics. He’d have had at least four years of breeding behind him by then. I thought about how much he’d had to overcome to get to that day and saunter through the grass to bed in safety: predators, impressive seasonal migrations from the high country to the lowlands, harsh storms, limited forage, and brute competition between other bucks. 

I looked at him and realized we were similar – our summer energy had peaked long ago and we’d won our battles for the year. I pictured us both spending the day slowly passing through, ready to let one season fold into another. We only got to watch him for a few minutes until he disappeared into the tall grass and cottonwoods, but that deep observation and detail imprinted a lasting memory. 

Slow is special; with it observations that unlock stories of passage otherwise unwitnessed. 

 

Lindsey Davis is an entrepreneur, advocate, writer and ecologist based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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