Dave isn’t ordinarily much of a joiner, but he joined a lek last spring, and now we’re just waiting to get the membership card in the mail. We were headed up Flag Mountain (named for the way you feel on the uphill side) and we both heard drumming. Very, very low drumming. “You can hear that?” I said. “And yet you can’t seem to hear me half the time I ask you something?”
“What?” Dave said.
He’s a polite guy, and so he drummed back. In proper pitch, and to perfection. After a moment, they were going back and forth like new-age warrior men on a spiritual quest. Dave’s idea, to the degree he was not being driven by instinct, was to get the drummer close enough to see. In those parts it was likely to be a male Sooty Grouse. The grouse, on the other hand, was, according to the literature, more interested in seeing a female grouse than in seeing Dave.
All sorts of odd noises are likely to come out of Dave at any time and some of them he engineers on purpose. He is percussive to a fault–to a fault, I say. The fingers are going, the feet are going, random objects are pressed into service. He’ll drum on the counter. Drum on the crockery. Drum on the open door of the refrigerator, where he will not begin looking for whatever is in there until all the cold air is out and the solo is complete.
It’s been a few years since I objected to any of this. His response was crisp. “It’s either this,” he said, “or I start smoking again.” So our kitchen has a back beat. It’s just one of those things. I excel at torpidity. Dave must have everything going at once or there will be a dangerous buildup of something. We don’t want to find out what.
The lek is a loose association of males–birds, antelope–who are all in the flirtation business. They are mighty impressive. Some species that form leks need to be in visual contact so they can check each other out. Others just need to be in hearing distance. The deal is they all put on a show and the females pop by and cruise the possibilities until they make a selection. It’s less wear and tear on the females that way; it’s hitting the bar on Ladies’ Night instead of going through the whole internet dating scene. Hard to say if this was all their idea. Lots of male birds court their mates by feeding them. The grouse just show off. The females hang out and eat as many bugs as they can find for themselves, because nobody’s buying at this bar, and then it’s just “oh, okay, you then,” and off they go.
It’s a damn good show, though. The grouse makes the drumming sound by inflating fancy air sacs on his neck, precisely the way Dave does it, only he does it taller. Dave was unable to draw out the other grouse, and we did not get to see the show. It was a good hike anyway. Miles later, we found our way back to the cabin and there, in the periphery, what did we see?–the suggestion of slatey feathers sifting through the woods–giggling, shifting, sly glances sliding our way, a coy tail feather swept to one side–well, we should have seen it coming. Dave’s the complete package. He even attracts bugs.
Murrmurrs Bonus: here’s eighteen seconds of your life you’ll never get back again:
A loose association of males who all hope to get laid without giving the females anything? Among humans I thought that was called a frat.
Point and match!
The look on Dave's face is priceless! And explains a sentence I was puzzled over … "The grouse makes the drumming sound by inflating fancy air sacs on his neck, precisely the way Dave does it, only he does it taller." What's not to lek, indeed! Not a thing, I say; not a dang thing.
You'd be able to see the fancy air sacs if he shaved his beard. Oh, which he did once, after I'd known him for, like, ten years–and he has a big chin dimple! Just when you think you know someone…
I don't need those 18 seconds back. They made me smile. And what a gorgeous area. The moss on the downed tree was amazing.
It's like that all over, here. If you stand and meditate for any length of time, you'll green up, too.
Thank you and Dave for that eighteen seconds. I have them now, and have banked them in my memory.
Ain't it fine to have a memory bank? I deposit all sorts of things in there just to cheer me up. Duck feet, the time Dave fell out of the kayak while watching a loon swim under, Horowitz playing Stars And Stripes Forever…
It's always a good day when I earn organized punctuation from Dale!
Can't get beyond the frat comment.Made me spit coffee. My Man reckons I can speak possum.
I don't even know what they sound like. Except that squishy noise on the pavement.
I decided I could hunt the night I walked a little way out of camp to do what a girl needs to do when a grouse flew up with incredible gusto and scared everything right out of me–before I had even found a proper place. I now hunt, and with equal gusto.
Ha ha ha! YOU FLUSHED FIRST.
You married a very talented man!
Didn't I? And not all the usual sought-after talents, either.
I'm glad that Dave and I hear, and don't hear, pretty much the same thing. I am not alone!
If you mean neither of you can hear your womenfolk, you might be alone soon enough…
Oh, this was fun. I think Wednesday should be renamed Murrday, with a grouse accent.
Wednesday is really kind of an unwieldy name. Or at least pronunciation. You start naming days of the week Murrday, and people will start expecting things from me. Although no one's heard from Woden for a while.
Grouse, in all their iterations, are nice birds. Prairie Hens, Sage Grouse, Spruce Hens, large, delectable birds. Sadly many sub-species are becoming scarce, some endangered.
And others just renamed. We used to have a Blue Grouse and now it's a Sooty or a Dusky grouse, depending. Which is what they were when Lewis and Clark described them, and then they got jammed together into Blue, and then busted apart again, and how a girl can keep track I don't know.
Am I the only one who sees a connection between Should Fish More's two comments there? "large delectable birds" and "scarce, some endangered"? Good grief man, stop eating them!!
I would love to be able to imitate birds! the only thing i cam imitate is a pillow.
But a feather pillow–right?
There is a town in Alaska named Chicken, The story is that the early residence wanted to name it Ptarmigan but they did not know how to spell it so they named it Chicken – what the natives call the grouse.
Cool thing about ptarmigans: they fly right into snowdrifts to sleep. All buried warm and tidy and no footsteps in the snow to alert predators.
Is that what grouse drumming sounds like? If I heard that in the woods, I would think it was a couple of lazy bears mating. Grunt-a-grunt-a-grunt. You SURE it wasn't lazy bears?