Friday, August 04, 2006

Butting Heads

My wife and I took at brief trip to a park nearby where the Nevada State Animal tends to hang out. No, I am not talking about the three-eyed, one armed domestic slot; nor am I talking about the green felt covered table, nor the gold lamiae clad, oxygen toting, retired folk. I am talking about the native long-horned sheep.

There is a park next to the foothills where they come to feed and sit in the grass under the shade of the NON-domestic trees. The come out of rocky, scrub brush land to the manicured park and hang out close to the picnic tables and soccer field. It is kind of like their mini vacation, leaving their harsh life to a life with a buffet of green grass, shade, and peace.

While Frankie would take pictures of them I would sit on the picnic table and watch their interaction. You can tell the males from the females, out side of the obvious, by their darker color and bigger, thicker horns. The bigger and thicker the horns, the older the male. You can also tell the older males by how scarred up their bodies are. Scarred from a life in the rocks but most of all scarred from the many fights for dominance that they have had and, obviously, won. One particular old male sat serenely in the shade about 20 feet from my picnic table and looked over his harem of females. There were a few smaller males around who would make their way over to this patriarch as if to sneak up on him. They would stand over him and he wouldn’t even give them the time of day. His head would turn directly away from them. After a few moments of being ignored the young buck would bow down and nudge the old man with his forehead. The old man would still ignore him so he would nudge a little harder trying to get the attention of the old man. After a few more even stronger butts and attempts to pick a fight the young buck moves on to “play” fighting with another young buck.

After a while the patriarch gets up to graze a bit and every long horned head turns to see where he is going. If not too far they relax again. Human spectators try to get closer and closer to take pictures and when too close all the females, and young males get up and move to the patriarch for protection. The young males just pretend that they are grazing but the females have their heads up and ears out, ready and wary. The head butting commences again with the young males but the patriarch remains, surrounded by his harem, content. The time will come when he will again have to defend his territory and his friends but today … ah, today, he is at peace. I think I will longingly name him Uncle Sam.

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