Staring Contest – 2016.12.23

Staring Contest


“As soon as the breath escapes my nostrils the forest explodes and ten of the eleven deer bound out of sight. The closest one remains, a beautiful doe with dark eyes and a dark nose, highlighted by white around its edges.”

  • Friday 23 December 2016
  • Boulder County, Colorado
  • Time 1023
  • Elevation 7623’
  • Blue skies, strong west wind, 45℉

I didn’t choose this spot as much as it chose me. I venture to a trail I have not been on before, with a destination in mind. But I follow an old road in the forest, not the official trail, as I’m often prone to do. Like a child following a trail of candy, I follow a set of week old elk tracks in the snow.

My plan today is to perhaps find a spot to sit and observe the world  for an hour. I say perhaps, but I have my camera, a small brown leather journal measuring 3 ½” x 5 ½”, pen, small pad to sit on so as to be comfortable and clothes suitable to endure an hour sitting still in December.

I crest a small undulation and the forest erupts in movement. I see bellies, legs and necks heading in various directions much like a game of  Hide and Seek and someone has called out “Olly, olly, oxen free!”. Attempting to count the mule deer my mind can process eight or more but then they are still, running, hopping and one is still in its bed. The small herd has not vacated the area entirely and after a few minutes of crouching on the ground I find a soft spot to sit down.

For the next forty minutes I remain as still as possible and find myself in a staring contest with eleven does and yearlings. Even though I am close to a national forest boundary these are “city deer”. The younger ones are nervous, bounding off at times, only to make their way back to the herd. Always, there are at least five sets of eyes on me at any one time. The mothers, typically the most wary while their youngsters are frolicking are habituated to humans. They keep a close eye on me and even venture closer, not exactly sure what this lump on the ground is.

About twenty minutes into our game, I hear a loud snort behind me and can’t help but whip my head to my left behind me just in time to see another deer bound off. I can’t tell its gender but while I have been preoccupied with the eleven fore of me, one snuck up surprising me. I don’t think the eleven have seen the one behind, but only heard it. They are on high alert, as am I now, but they don’t move off. Now nearly all eyes are on me. I attempt to relax in my posture, thankful for a yoga practice that has begun to hone core musculature as I seek comfort in this spot. In that vein, I slowly exhale through my nose, but it is just slightly audible, yet not so much that if I were in a quiet room visiting with others that they would notice. But now, amazingly, with the closest deer perhaps 25 yards away, as soon as the breath escapes my nostrils the forest explodes and ten of the eleven deer bound out of sight. The closest one remains, a beautiful doe with dark eyes and a dark nose, highlighted by white around its edges.

I fear the gig is up, but after a few minutes, remarkably, the deer all begin to return again. They move about to more feeding and move from in front of me to my right and south. Something has changed in them, and while they find me slightly unsettling, I feel the heavy winds beyond this depression unsettles them more and they will tolerate a human or strange presence rather than be out in the open.

This new level of their comfort allows me to pull out my journal and frantically make notes, fearful that I will forget many details of our encounter if too much time passes. I see twigs close by that are mangled from the browsing deer, ruminants that have four chambered stomachs and therefore chew their cud, breaking down plant matter to stimulate digestion. I watch the beautiful doe as she reaches up to nibble on a Douglas Fir, which surprises me. I wasn’t aware that mule deer ate evergreens.

I notice the plant life around me and am surprised that the kinnikinnick still has its leaves. Back in September the kinnikinnick at 10,000’ had lost its leaves. Maybe the late warm autumn that has just passed spared this plant to lose it leaves as of just yet.

As I sit on this little overgrown road that runs north/south I feel the sun on my right side as it warms my face and right shoulder while my back left shoulder is considerably chilled in the shade. I’m amazed now with just minutes left in this hour how quickly it has passed. The observations of the deer has allowed me to miss so much more that is around me. But the exercise I have chosen is to be for precisely one hour, not more, not less.

I stand with just four minutes remaining to see a bit more of all that is around me. I determine that my field of vision has been no more than 60 yards, as it is rather dense here with the tall Douglas Firs. I can just make out the back side of Bear Peak which juts up in front of me as I have been facing east for the last hour.

I pack up my items, double checking not to leave any sign of my presence behind. I’ve come 1.54 miles from the parked car and will make a bigger loop back there as I process what I’ve been privy to over the last hour, a trial run of single hours that will come in 2017. I determine that the test run has been a success.

4 thoughts on “Staring Contest – 2016.12.23

  1. I like that I can experience your experience through your detailed thoughtful writing. This will be a fun year ahead for not only you, but also for your readers. Thanks, Matt!


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