Nin-Jah Elk

Zen Mountain’s Ninja Elk

Anyone that has been around elk know that they are ” The Ghosts of the Woods ” , Freakin’ Ninja Elk.

Let’s do a pre-story story. A true story , course. No unicorns and axle grease, ummm don’t ask….

Into the woods

I was hunting on the South side of Mount Hood for deer, several years ago now. I had an elk tag for the area, literally across the road.. Handy that. It was a several hour drive from home even though it was more or less in my neck of the woods…Just sort of a giraffe-neck-ish-neck of the woods…

I had walked down a shale slope into a nice mostly open basin with what few trees there were ,about as tall as myself. Surrounding the basin was the one steep slope of shale and the rest walls of pines that I had to squeeze through .. Let’s keep in mind that I am under 170 , soaking wet…with the rifle and pack…on a bloated fat day…

Working my way around the area , looking for rubs , tracks , etc. I heard something going up  the far side of the shale slope. I was athinkin’ that it musta been some other bugger asneakin’ inta mine own woods…CRAP on a cracker!

I stood by one of the trees, arms crossed , best glare in place, wondering ifin I shoulda be a givin them the tapping foot….

” Do Not make me put my foot down! You don’t a be wantin that kinda troubles my friend.”

Glare in place, I watched as an enormous cow elk came over the top followed by several more slip slidin’ away as they made their way towards me. Glare melting , I pressed myself to the tree thinking about the road some thousand yards behind me leading towards the elk unit I had a tag for and wondering how the heck am I not going to get totally busted.

He’s a manly bull

It was only moments before I had a herd of elk surrounding me ….. Moo… I couldn’t believe that they hadn’t so much as looked at me yet when a giant five point bull came over the top screaming defiance and challenge.the bugle starts low and throaty, rising to a high whistle, then dropping to a grunt or a series of grunts.

” Ahh…Brilliant….”

The closest cow was little more than  five yards from me swooning over the Manly Man Bull  who somehow was NOT sliding down the shale as I and all the cows had. She whipped out her compact , checked her make up. Fluttered her eye lashes at the mirror a couple times.  Checked her pits, grimaced and shrugged then turned her best side toward him.

The big boy came in to around fifteen yards of me and bellowed again. I thought my ears would burst or my bladder would let go. I was feeling very very small .

Hold on Big Boy

The cows all but clapped and whistled . I am pretty sure I saw big ole granny panties being tossed at him as he took a bow..and half the branches off the small near by tree that looked way too much like the one ” hiding me”

A roar came from the woods to the North and ,moments later, a seven point, much larger bull stepped into the Thunderdome.

( keeping in mind we count one of the two antlers, that’s not both sides fer Easterners with their four point bucks that we be a callin’ a BBQ buck or fork horn… BBQ buck cause it’s bout big enough fer a single meal with yer friends . Not somethin you be a braggin about.)

The seven point came up to the five and the two had a dance off.

The roar from the Seven point was answered, some river dancing..then the games began. A false rush put the small bull on guard before the Big Boy hammered him full tilt locking the two together…..a some fifteen yards from me.

It is really hard to feel all predatory when more than a couple thousand pounds of muscle and antler are screaming, spitting, kicking and swearing is going on close enough that you have their stanky mud being flicked on you. I felt more like a metal folding chair than a hunter and wondered when one of them would grab me , tossing me over the back of the other in a WW move.

IN the end , the seven point (Imperial) chased off the big five, the harlots switched to the new heart throb without a thought let along an apologetic look… Well… pphtttttt..whatever…buncha cows..


Ohh Wasn’t he just Dreamy ?

The cows all started looking to each other, possibly taking numbers, maybe just seeing if anyone was willing to head off with the “little” guy.

Sadly, the cow next to me turned to me to see what my thoughts were and realized I was not in fact either a tree, nor a cow…. not even a squirrel though that is about how big I was feeling at the time.

The cow stared at me for what seemed hours until she judged that my nose hairs somehow didn’t look right and began to back up. I tried my bestest smile and puppy dog eyes..She wasn’t impressed… I sniffed my own pits as she rolled her lip at me.

” Oh come on now. Have you smelled you? …..Yeah ok, the skunk scent may have been a wrong decision  on my part..But Still.. Have you smelled You? ”

I may have possibly hurt some feelings there.. My bad..

Just freakin’ POOF!

I watched with my arms still crossed as the few dozen elk bolted to the trees….and they were gone…POOF!…Just freakinPOOF!

I walked to the trees because.. What? Am I going to scare them ? I saw the prints , ok , more of a mariana trench go right up to the trees . The pecker poles were close enough that I was pressing between them with some difficulty and the blow down that covered the floor was to my knees. I looked at the trunks for scrapes . I could find none. Anywhere…. How do they do that ?

Wedging back out , I made my way back up the slope , got into the truck then around to the path on the other side of the road they had made. It took me a good hour and change to get that far. The trench was there down a mud slurried path then poof. I have to assume that they turned off to a side but I never did find track nor hair. They were the biggest elk I had ever seen. Red , the color of Irish Setters . The racks on the bulls would easily fill a truck bed , length wise and over both edges. They made our elk look a bit weenie ..Poor Zen Elk….Aren’t they just the wee bit cutest little things.

And now onto the story story…..

One of the spike bulls and a few of the large winter herd

” No he can’t see us .”

I was working at my desk last Sunday afternoon. The day was nice, especially for the middle of winter. My view of the valley always has me looking up and out. As often as not “someone” will be out there whether turkey, bear eagles or elk.

The afternoon had been fairly quiet . I had most of my work done for the week leaving time to play with audio files , mixes and such…. All ideas that will probably never get finished, when I looked back  up. I took a double take to see a herd of elk staring at me.

” I think he saw us. ”

” Stand still and we are invisible.”

” You know that’s not how it works right?”

” Shhh… He can hear you.”

” He can only see us when we move. ” The spike popped in.

” You have been watching ‘Jurassic Park ‘ at the Elk’s Club again haven’t you? ”

” Yeah but…Still.”

” Not how it works… That’s a movie and he is not a dinosaur ..”

The spike grunted, pouted and opened his mouth again.

” Shut it.”

The lead cow talking out the side of her mouth as the front ranks stood on the other side of our ” lawn” watching me.

” He is so interesting to watch. It’s almost looks like his eyes follow you. ”

The spike, now sitting , armed crossed , glaring , spoke up again.

” Can I at least take him home as a pet?”

” Are you going to clean up after him? Feed him? Walk him? I don’t think so. Besides…they smell funny. He does that squidgy walk thing. It totally creeps me out…And! He barks! All the time… and.. How would you catch him anyway?  They are all sneaky squirmy . He will see you coming from a mile away. ”

” But.. I’m sneaky too. I’m like a freakin Nin-Jah.”

” Yes , yes Whatever..Nin-Jah Elk. ”

Run Away !

” I tell you, he can see us.”

” You’re being paranoid. He stares at those black things in front of him. He isn’t actually looking out.”

” Yeah? He just got up and grabbed that little black thing he is always pointing at us.”

” The soul reaper!”

“It is called a camera.”

” Someone slap the boy for me please.”

” GAwwwhhh ! No one ever listens to me!”

” When you are done whining could you pull up your panties and get ready to run..Just in case.”

The little bull stuck out his tongue , glaring at the lead cow….” Whatever..”


Hummie sat on the fence next to my window watching the elk as I took pictures. A sly smile slid over his wee leetle beak and off he flew. Up and over the herd the hummingbird zipped and was gone only to whip back around , hovering over one of the cow’s head.

A quiet voice in the cow’s ear said…

” run…”

” Whaa? ”


” Who said that?” The cow looking around at everyone riveted on the house still as statues…well..other than the spike making faces at the lead cow behind her back as he slouched .

” rruuuuunnnnn ” 

The cow looked around again shrugging.

Hummie rolled his eyes, sweep in closer to the cow’s ear…



tiny portion of one of 160 frames of the herd  taking off

The cows leaped into action, bowling over the spike where he sat. Row after row of cow elk stripped off to run down hill. Soon bulls were in the mix as well. Spikes , fork horns, three points and more popped up between the cows following the rampant surge of flailing cows as they took off blindly down the hill waving their arms over their heads in panic……. Until…

Elk Camp !

Some hundred elk having raced down the hillside, little bubbles of question marks popping over their heads as they swung left and right looking for the danger. A young cow looked up to see Hummie rolling in the air, wings wrapped around his belly laughing. She stopped to glare at him.

The herd seeing the lone cow stopped , staring up , all began to follow suit. Several hundred elk now stared up at Hummie as he covered his mouth giggling.

The Matron Cow at the back of the herd rolled her eyes at him calling out..

” Elk Camp!”

The herd slowed, circled beginning to chat amongst themselves. They had made camp just inside the saddle at the South end of the Zen Homestead…. Some two hundred and less yards from the house. We could hear them chattering away.. Something about some little fuzzy jerk… Might have been me but pretty sure it was Hum they were talking about.

Hum flew back to the house , we did a ” High Five” laughing before he remembered he was still pissed at me for moving his water bottle over six feet. Glaring at me, he went over to the feeder to sip and glare…Glare and sip…

” Yes , Yes…I know.. I moved your feeder…Sorry for the inconvenience.. ”


Our local pair of coyote kids . Part of the Zen pack

Ma, my better half, was sitting on our porch the other evening after work reading some knitty-knitty-thang-thang on her pad while relaxing after work. I was in my office, funnily enough, looking over a score I had been playing with before tossing yet another version into my virtual trash can.

Far off a lone coyote called out to check on ” Sup on Zen tonight? ”

A grin covered my face in a two part glee as our pair answered…..from just the other side of the porch. Chuckling, I looked to Ma to see her hair standing straight up, caught unaware by our coyote kids.

It is one thing to watch the kids come in, sit down and begin to howl. It is quite another to have them sneak up beside you and call out to someone else a few miles away.

The two sang along telling first that ” Yeah , not much yet.. Whatcha wanna do?”

The answering , ” I dunno What you wanna do?”

” I don’t know..What you wanna do?”

Our female slap her mate behind the ears as he started again..

In a song dog giggle , the female told how they had scared Ma after stalking within yards of her to yell in her ear.

” A Roo! Yah Yah Yah!” or in common speech ; ” Very Funny! You know she’s gonna smack you right? “.. It loses a little in translation.

They trotted by winking at me then skittered away from Ma’s boot to go get into trouble with their friends giggling all the way…”

Dancin in the stars

Friday evening, I sat down with my backtracks and Zen Built Tele to play a little, as much to keep from passing out too early as to entertain myself. Our does came on in to the yard as I play to grab a bite from Ma’s “deer proof” gardens and hang with the folks.

The girls ,getting closer, could hear me playing. One under my window looked up at me and started to throw in some hip action. Within minutes others came in closer dancin under the stars in wild pagan circles hooting dipping and swaying, creating celtic knots in the snow beneath their hooves.

I have around forty five minutes of backtracks I set up so I can be lazy , playing single parts as I like. The girls hung through my mix and after as they went back to munching grass and weeds through the snow cover.

Town run

With ” Blue” being as of yet mostly untested …My morning too early to worry about dealing with her throwing a tantrum in the wee hours… We decided to make the town run on Saturday.

We had several stops to make as we hadn’t done much shopping since before the holidays making a dent in our veggies and steaks… On the bright side, I had to cut steaks and with that I would then have extra cuts for our Sunday dinner .

I cut the cheese

Breaking down cheeses for smoking later on is , of course, quick and easy work . Cutting off larger blocks into one half to one pound blocks makes for better smoking as well as keeping smoked cheeses at a size that will be used before they get nasty.. ..

Size matter as well for the different cheeses and it is more than simply the difference between softer vs harder cheeses. For me, it is the particular cheese its self , brand , type , so on. I want to …mmm.. cure it , or change  the cure or whatever…

Changing oil content , consistency and flavors..blah blah so on and smakity so forth… I know what I want from the whole dang process and one Moz will be different from another. Some don’t feel or taste right until after they are sweated and the lighter smoke they take is nice as well.

The cheeses have to be frozen solid if we want to have any chance of getting a good smoke on them. A couple hours in the smoker at as low a temp as we can keep the smoke rolling and either they are fine slabs of sweated , to remove oils etc  along with a nice smoke bark.

Removing the excess water and oils changes the cheese texture and taste as one would think . The bark adds layers of textures and flavors of its own, once again ….duh… and of course, different chips/ wood will do more than simply make a difference in the taste, it changes the cure and cure times.

I’m a butt head?

Taking apart a Pork Butt and a Pork Sirloin for our needs is quick and easy as well with Ma helping.

This week , I reduced some fifteen plus pounds of sirloin into chops or steaks if you will … They are the flavorful part of the chop . Cutting them into around six ounce steak/chops then packaging four to a bag works out great for meals . Treating them like a chop and you have a great piece of meat to work with. A few minutes of block work and we have around three months of chops.

The Butt , which is the cut I constantly talk about… Yes , yes, I am a butt man.. or as a lot of people will agree ; I am a butt head… Took only a couple minutes longer to break down.

The butt ( yes I keep using the term to make some people snicker ..much more entertaining than shoulder ) is a one in all cut. I have said it a million times, probably more , that this is our Steak, stew, roast , burger , and …,of course,… pull pork cut.

This week , as no two butts are a like..Am I right? We made mostly steaks though Ma bagged up months worth of stew meat.. Ma , as she has every time we cut and bag meat for stew , shakes her head with the obligatory ;

” That doesn’t look like enough meat .”

I use enough stew meat to fill my palm for each Saturday morning stew. Yup , for two people ….well two our size…Keeping in mind I aint big and I refer to Ma as ” Pocket Ma.” Toss in a quarter onion, a stalk of celery , a red tater , garlic and a third to half sweet spud  then the other non veggie non meat stuff , heh… Ma and I split, yes , split an egg and we both generally suffer through the last bite being stuffed half way through.

We also got out ” Money Meat” cut for Tonight to go with some home grown green beans.  It has been marinating since we cut it . I’ll sear it tonight then bake it..easy cooking as we always try to do with us constantly on the run.

The last cut, as like I say every butt is different , came up as a skillet steak. To look at it , you would think it was pork belly from some bitty piggy. Some times the piece is big enough to package, some times it ends up either for stew or for the coyote kids on a really lean butt.

Bawk !

We picked up a pair of whole chickens to break down as well. Organic , not because of marketing but so than Ma doesn’t swell and worse….sooo much worse …

Chickens ,umm ,feathers removed and innards pulled already , are fast fast fast.

Not having to do the tedious work of plucking feathers doesn’t hurt my feelings in the least..innards , well one thing less to do. It’s the feathers than make me want to play fetch with coyote kids about half way through.

The job on these however is,

Wings come off both birds.They are bagged for later. Once we get a gallon bag full we make a meal…and fun snacks for me for a couple days..Ma doesn’t care for them once they have cooled.

In a moment I have the first skin pulled. Without the wings , it is like taking off a sweater.

Legs and thighs next , derrrrrrr…Then flatten the bird to make it easier to remove the breast meat. They are then cut up for Ma’s chicken strips which are nothing like any kind of store bought, course… and the whole bird took just about as long to read as do..oops.. second bird was finished as I blathered through here.

The dark meat from both chicken go together for broth. The meat will depend on the week. It could go as stew or as chicken salad or stir fry …. Something for later…

Sunday Sunday Sunday

Yup..It is Sunday , the post is almost finished and the Sun, assuming we see it today , has yet to do little more than put some color into the morning greys of pre-dawn.

Ma , of course, goes back to work today and I will be in the kitchen off and on .

No means another great day not arguing with ” Little Red”; our 53 Ford Jubilee tractor over waking up to clear roads . So far, I have used less gas in her this winter than I did each week last year. We are seeing the two opposites over the two winters. Fortunately however, we are still getting the wet. Staying even in the mid thirties it is mostly ” Just for Lookin at” snow rather than last year’s non stop , burying our windows , fences, cars etc …

The lowest areas were still up to the tractor’s seat. The highest was between buildings in a remarkable roof to roof  the length of the two. I had had to climb between the two on snow shoes to clear snow , which for the most part was easy in the respect that the edge of the roof was at my knees. The scary part was removing snow from in front of windows. I had fallen , jamming myself between the window edge and the wall of snow..upside down ..because that is how I roll….Yes.. I did get out eventually….derrrrrr.

” Little Red” also does not have to worry about moving wood this week. This winter’s thirties to forties temps means we also aren’t running the wood stove full bore around the clock… We fire it up when we get up and let it burn down while I sleep away my” evening” in the “EST” ( Evil Sleepy-Time) chair… We have more than a cord in the wood room and at a load per week right now I may…MAY  … want to bring in one more run before mid February to get us into April if the weather holds. I had looked at what we were using the last few weeks and I almost wiggled .. pretty sure “Little Red” did too as I put her back to bed on the last run.

Small chores today makes me a happy camper. I’ll end up wondering where the day went anyway as we all do with Sundays ( or our versions of )

Final Thoughts

We are getting closer to going back to normal weeks though at this point what is ” normal”.. Being on the same shift with Ma would be awesome. Not getting up at 3:30am would be awesome… Simply getting back to my normal job would be awesome. We still have a ways to go before normal kicks in , but like Spring; it is coming.

It was great to see the elk again, they come through fairly often again now that they finally decided that the citiot that scared them off , crap many years ago now, isn’t going to do it again…Hopefully….

I haven’t ” hunted” elk in many years now , I imagine I could if I had an area I could get in and out of on my own and they were in said area…. Mmm not where I would find them here , other than at the homestead which is nothing but fancy.. I couldn’t dream a single bull during the season in the perfect spot and myself be out ready for him then get him to actually stay where I can get to him. Not happening… I am too beat up to do the elk thing on my own now so they too are ” Just for lookin at “.

Coyote kids will be happy with the trimmings from both pork and chicken. They are one of the reasons I do not still have chickens up here.. Mostly though is that I do not need to have raccoons come back to Zen Mountain top. Build a chicken coop and they will come….

Zen Mornings

The fog dense enough that for the most part you see a few yards out. The fog makes magic of the days I don’t have to drive. Anything can step through the fog at any time from bunnies to bears in these temps.

As I write, the fog breaks around the shape of one of our deer coming to visit. She clings to the edge of the fog making her way to the grove on our North edge.

The snow is gone again this morning , our grasses  zen-green .. not the fancy blue-green of manicured lawns but of the meadow grasses of Zen. They will go dormant in a few months to weather the Summer but for now they are low green with tight mounds for the kids to munch on as they come dancing in to visit.

The first birds of the day sweep in to the ” Fly – N- Go” to grab a bite whether seed  or suet . The Owls have gone to bed and hawks are still on the wing some where else.

The magic that is Zen charges the air this time of the day. Winds still quiet before the warmth of the Sun hits the cool of the hills. It isn’t dark nor is it what one would call light out yet.

The fog ebbs and flows as it slowly makes its way through the fells .

In the distance the Sun is waking to the morning of our hills and valleys we call home. A soft golden glow that you can only see early and late and only through the lays of low clouds that make up Zen’s ” fog”.

The mystical appearance of our deer as they make their way around Zen Top,  slipping in and out of the fog in the quiet morning hours before the Sun stretches and breaks free make this

Just another day on Zen Mountain





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