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May 2, 2022

Moments with an Elk Herd

This snowy morning in early May brings an elk herd of fifty migrating into the valley for a morning grazing session. The dogs alerted on their strange presence, bringing disruption and demands. Everyone’s routine is altered at the sudden appearance of brown, furry bodies on their claimed lands. Finally, the dogs have settled down into a moment of quiet, at least for a while.

I’m sure the dogs are feeling as intruded upon and defensive as I feel in awe of their appearance. It’s always an honor to witness them, and even better when they find enough reason to stay.

Fresh green shoots this morning are sufficient justification for their remaining.

Willie Grommit, our disabled dog, finds their presence decently alarming, sending him into a frenzy. As he glimpsed a set of brown legs just outside the west-facing window, he hurled his body off the couch straight into another canine cacophony of alarm. He cannot grasp the view as Smudges and Charlie can, but is relegated to the floor. This morning, I lift him to afford a glimpse of reality just beyond these four log walls, believing that if he can better see, he’ll understand and calm.

It has worked for Smudges, who has learned to quietly observe over the years when the elk migrate down here in the springtime.

Sweet Willie Grommit, just three years young, however, has a few more seasons to adjust.

All but a few of the herd are lying down in the pasture this late morning. Of the twenty remaining from a herd of fifty, all are females. Some are young calves, others, have lived a handful of seasons. The rest of the herd trotted across Boulder Canyon an hour earlier, harried by the blasting horn of an alarmed trucker returning back down the Canyon at far greater speeds than preferred, given the presence of vulnerable elk. A few younger females clustered like frightened schoolgirls at the top of our driveway when they heard it, turned and ran back down the safety of the hillside.

And they joined together, so now they’re here to graze and laze about for a time.

Earlier, a few of the cows jumped the fence in pursuit of fresh spring shoots in our yard, triggering canine alerts once again. Despite lowering the blinds, the dogs growled, lifted tails, and stared. The one-acre enclosure around the house is meant to deconflict dog-wildlife encounters, so we have to wait until they leave, lest Smudges and Charlie decide to defend their territory while the elk are still in it.

The herd is still lazing and reclining in the pasture this cool, wet, and quiet Monday morning. Gratitude arises for the timing – on a Monday, locals are as accustomed to their presence as they are inclined to move on down the Canyon, sparing the elk the ritual intrusions that occur when tourists chance upon their presence. With rare exception, they will stop, leap out of their cars with cameras in hand, and run down our driveway to catch an image. As with the young gentleman last year who screeched to a halt, leapt out of his car and hustled in the direction of thirty elk clustering in fear, I have to play park ranger and advise them to get back in their car.

And then, there was the young woman last week, who crept up on our browsing yearling moose with her smartphone, until she was a mere ten feet away.

The ways in which we intrude upon the boundaries of wildlife are as varied as they are abundant. This morning, I catch another glimpse: One of the cows is wearing a radio collar, tagged B1. I want to pull it off of her, to free her from the antenna rubbing against her wild ear. And yet, it must be on there for a reason – courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, perhaps – which is in the business of selling off our wildlife to support its own agency in the way of hunting tags.

Living amidst the wild ones trying to nibble fresh green shoots and quietly reclining in our wild pastures gives rise to the desire to see them enjoy a life unfettered and healthful, revered for their intrinsic lives and separate from any utility to humans. It’s an opportunity when we chance upon their presence, then, to simply watch as they recline in quiet repose, and enjoy a bit of sustenance, before migrating onward.

I draw the blinds in the bedroom as soon as the herd trots over to the eastern part of the valley, lest the dogs find them again, and resign myself to working inside the dining room for the morning, lest my commute down to the barnyard disturb their wild repose.

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