Living on the Edge
The winter herd of antelope grazing along my lane numbered in the seventies. Among that group were twenty-three bucks with newly forming horns. The old sheaths have recently been dropped and the new growth already begun. This summer there will be a lot of competition for the does, but next summer’s rut was the last thing on their minds. They still have to make it through this winter.
Neighbors have complained of herds in the hundreds sliding under their fences. The pronghorns are gathering along the edge of the northern hills. They congregate from the prairie to take advantage of temperatures that are often much warmer and hillsides that melt and blow off sooner that on the flats. Who could blame them for gathering here, the scenery is stunning and if they climb through the timber, they can almost see home.
I have always loved the edge country. The thick timber was always a bit too dark and the open prairie a tad too unforgiving. I’ve been “temporarily misplaced” once too often, wandering from one timbered valley to another during a heavy fog before finally stumbling out on a forest service road, miles from my vehicle. It’s not too scary if you are ready for the weather and can place a call to family to keep them from worrying.
If you’re not prepared and your phone is dead, people have been known to make some poor survival choices. For the antelope, the edge country is the safest place to spend the winter.
I’ve also been caught with a dead battery out on the prairie. Anyone who has ever driven from Sturgis to Pierre and only seen three other cars during the trip knows that a helping hand can be hours or days in coming if you turn leave the pavement and head off into the back country. Open a gate and start driving away from a graveled road during the wrong time of year and you can get stuck and turned around in a ground blizzard so blinding that rescue dogs will refuse to work, tuck their tails, and hide in the barn.
But the edge country draws us all. We can have our adventure within arm’s reach and still dive back into the security of our homes when need be.
Antelope are uniquely designed by our Creator with hollow-fiber hairs that allow them to battle frigid temperatures. Their dainty features would seem to leave them at a disadvantage, but as long as they can evade the wind chills and find slopes that have been blow free of snow, they are survivors. South Dakota’s herd is rebuilding from blizzard losses a few years back, but numbers are climbing and soon they will be near target populations set by the Game and Fish.
On the other side of the globe another winter-hardy antelope species is experiencing a remarkable die off.
The saiga antelope resembles a science fiction character straight off of an intergalactic space craft. It looks as if one of our pronghorn had a love child with an elephant seal. A gasmask of a nose hangs from its face supposedly to filter out dust and the same frigid cold our antelope face here.
In May of 2015 researchers stumbled upon a mass die-off in progress. On the plains of Kazakhstan over 200,000 does gave birth to their fawns, lay down, and died. The fawns were left to their own devices and soon perished often only feet from their birth place. In 1988 when the population was higher, 400,000 animals perished.
Today the population hangs on the edge.
But antelope are strong, quick to rebound, and gifted at living in that kind of country.