elk rubbing velvet off

Maybe it’s a magpie nesting in the rain gutter above my second-story bedroom window, but it sounds more like an elk rubbing velvet from his antlers.  I lie in bed and sort through what I know for sure.

Do I know the sound of velvet being rubbed? No. The sound of a magpie landing in its nest? No. Maybe I should slip out of bed and make sure it isn’t an undone latch, or a deer uprooting the yellow rose bush.  But the sound comes again: a cascade of feathers brushing against a wall? The velvet of an elk?

Is it, in fact, the velvet season? I reach for my phone and google from beneath the quilts: When do elks velvet?

Google answers back: Why don’t woodpeckers get concussions?

Never mind, Google. I’ll text a midnight shout-out to my brother: Is it elk velvet time? I think I just heard an elk rubbing against the siding of my house.

Message sent, I fall back asleep.

And when morning comes my phone is flashing: You don’t even live in elk country.


This is the week I will make my mother’s meatloaf. Not so much for the hot meal, but to try a cold meatloaf sandwich and discover what I’ve been missing. Bread crumbs (not cracker crumbs), evaporated milk, green peppers and onions and Mom’s homemade barbeque sauce.

“How critical is it to use Worcestershire sauce?” I ask her on the phone, a bottle of A-1 sauce in my free hand.

“Oh, you can use that instead. Sure. Hey, did Fishing Guy ever get his spices back?”

“I dunno, Mom.” I open the lid to the A-1 sauce and sniff. It still smells the way it did last time I used it. Most ingredients in my house have expired. It’s not a bad idea to do the sniff and check. “Did I tell you about the sound that woke me in the middle of the night?”

“Because what you could do is run to Albertson’s. They have their spice packs on sale right now. Ten for ten dollars.”

“At first I thought it was a wing-beat, like a bird sliding off my house.”

“One of the packs comes with dry mustard. That would be good in his bean recipe.”

“Then I thought maybe elk rubbing velvet off.”

“You might want to check your potato bucket. Remember that time we were all playing Midnight Poker and I kept hearing sounds? You kids still don’t believe me, but the next day, I found all my potatoes had fallen out.”


After the last photo shoot, we gather around the laptop and page through the photos. Down in the living room, we have the PBS channel dialed in. The sound of someone teaching something soothes the three of us. Cooking cod, decorating on a budget, learning how to tie flies—it doesn’t matter. The orderly structure promises tomorrow’s calm.

Today: Trees, and the planting of. Our attention is diverted from the photos. We think of how it’s too late to plant an apple orchard when you calculate how many years until the first apple pie; of how we never did cut down the spruce tree in my yard, and now magpies have moved in and chased away the songs.

The three of us stand transfixed—the PBS tree man is digging a hole with just the right shovel. “Oh, he’s going to bury trees,” my daughter predicts.  This from the one whose mother forgets she doesn’t live in elk country. From the grandmother who knows the sound of potatoes falling.

We turn back to the photos. The sky is wrong with one shot, and the shadows are wrong with the next. What the photos need is the cut and paste tool. Blend the two together. But we  agree: No contrived photos.

We don’t borrow clouds, I remind them. Even though Ansel Adams did.

And speaking of borrow, they remember why they stopped by in the first place—to borrow a gift bag, box and tissue paper. All stored in a closet next to my bedroom door.

Down the hall, turn right, open the door and voila! the closet is a mess. Curly ribbon, thrice-used bows and seventy-eight sheets of gently-used, already-fluffed tissue had somehow spilled from the bags on the top shelf, taking a midnight fall.


Photo by my niece: Kelsey O’Keefe


About redmitten

author of Cracking Geodes Open, Making Good Use of August, and The Peppermint Bottle. poetry editor for IthacaLit. website: https://toomuchaugust.wordpress.com

20 responses to “elk rubbing velvet off

  1. And somehow, I don’t know how, the colorful spoons are how elk rub off their velvet. Their spiced velvet!!

  2. Hi Sherry. I don’t live in elk country either (only seen ’em once, from a great distance), but borrowing clouds is a grand photographic tradition. In the nineteenth century, glass plates weren’t sensitive enough to record both sky and ground (or sea). A French photographer, Gustav Le Gray, revolutionized the art by printing two negatives together. Ansel was Johnny-come-lately to the process of borrowing (actually, it’s news to me that he did; his Zone System was so precise that he could easily “expose for the sky and develop for the ground” in the film development, but if you say so, I believe you). So I wouldn’t worry too much about contrivances. Here’s a website about Le Gray, if yer so inclined: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/s/gustave-le-grey-exhibition/

    • redmitten

      tim- you made me rethink elk. i borrow the photos from friends and family often for this blog- but i’ve never used their elk photos because they seem like – yep, another elk shot. so when you see an elk photo in this blog, you’ll know it was meant for you.

      and wow to the le gray info and website! the language and the process takes me to another place. like what you wrote: expose for the sky and develop for the ground”. that’s a great metaphor, and makes for a good motto for living a more spiritual life as well. (this from someone who thinks the sound of tissue falling is the sound of elk rubbing off their velvet…) in regards to ansel’s borrowed clouds- the first i had ever realized such a thing was in reading leibowitz’s book, pilgrammage. she had gotten it into her head to find the spot where he once took a certain photo. but once she found the spot, she wanted to reenact the photo and take one of her own. the trouble was- each time she visited that spot, the conditions weren’t what she hoped for. i think she flew out there a couple times for this reason and then confided in his grandchild that the weather wasn’t cooperating. she wanted clouds in her photo, and adam’s granddaughter told leibowitz that she might consider what her grandfather sometimes did: borrow clouds from another photo. the notion of borrowing clouds- such a poetic thing. the way it becomes something different when taken out of context. and now i am off to spend more time with le gray- thank you!

      • Sherry, it’s funny how metaphors appear of their own volition. I wasn’t paying sufficient attention to the moment’s possibility; but we can rely on you for that. In truth (I must have been watching TV or otherwise mindless whilst replying), I inadvertently flipped the old B&W photographer’s mantra to “expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights”; i.e., w B&W film, overexpose and underdevelop. In color photography, you do just the reverse; you expose for the highlights (the sky) else they blow out — go blank — and then try to bring the darker areas in during printing (or in P-shop). But embedded in all this technical wonkiness lies some deeper wisdom, as you discovered. There’s a lot to chew on here. Which is actually closer to my world view: “expose for the sky and develop for the earth,” (interesting how changing “ground” to “earth,” suggests different connotations, eh?) or the converse? There’s the foundation of a faith in there that’s worth a ponder.

      • redmitten

        tim- in the reality of my photography moments- your words have been on my mind every time i’ve been outside shooting. it helps a lot with my little point-n-shoot camera. in the rest of my reality, esp spiritual, changing ground to earth offers infinite wisdom and touch points. and in the poetry reality- i might be lifting many of your words and going some place with them. (i. e. a sky going blank, bring the darker areas in). never ending . . .

  3. PS -— Kelsey’s photo looks like paint pudding. Yum.

    • redmitten

      tim- paint pudding is a sweet turn of phrase. she says the blue is the best, but instead of pudding, she was making tie-dyed cupcakes. and ps: “sacrificing the sky”- a term in the le gray website. i’ve printed it out and will never be the same now.

  4. Rose Hunter

    “Most ingredients in my house have expired. It’s not a bad idea to do the sniff and check.”
    Hehehehe. Gorgeous post. Now looking at pics of elk and borrowed clouds…. Interested in buried trees also….

    • redmitten

      rose- letting some things in life expire is akin to another tossing out his spices. and glad you liked those buried trees- ever since she said that, i’ve been considering life differently.

  5. Rose Hunter

    & thanks for that link Tim, how interesting.
    “a plain, unbroken prairie of open sea” 🙂
    Sherry you have your elk, I always think I “hear” a boa constrictor outside. I don’t live in boa constrictor territory either, in the sense that they do not wander around downtown Puerto Vallarta much. Still, I am always “hearing” one….

  6. So much going on here…3 generations concocting a gentle, comfort…the elk, the magpie…10 for $10…what more could a girl ask for? Maybe a borrowed cloud or two.

  7. This made me feel home. I’ll pretend it was the elk even though he couldn’t possibly have been in your yard. Sometimes you never know…
    Rachel VB

    • redmitten

      rachel, it’s yes to the elk for me, too. so often we never really know, so why not go there, right? good to hear from you!

  8. wuffda

    Useful to know that elk rubbings sound like falling tissues…wait, they are.

  9. kmerrifi

    A whole lot of sniffing going on, gal. And that’s a good thing. Pass the ketchup please.

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