At night, when I am snuggling up with OmegaDotter, getting her to fall asleep, Mr. Omegamom takes the OmegaDawg out for a nighttime stroll. Last night, when I emerged from the Dotter’s domain, sleepy-eyed and groggy, Mr. Omegamom informed me that he and OmegaDawg had gone to The Big Meadow, and the elk were out.
You know the old James Thurber cartoon where the woman is entertaining her friend in a living room draped with cats all over the place, and explains, “We have cats like some people have mice”?
We have elk.
When Mr. Omegamom and I drove here the first time, loaded with worldly goods and dragging a 21-foot trailer behind Blue, the pickup, we came through town at about 11 p.m. West of town, we were the third vehicle to encounter the scene…nice young lad of about 16 takes his dad’s new cherry red pickup out for a spin late at night on the highway, and hits an elk out for a stroll. This encounter included the idiot driver behind us who pulled out his ought 22 rifle out of his pickup, planning to “put that animal out of its misery!” Mr. Omegamom had A Talk with idiot about how a .22 wasn’t going to kill the animal, and, oh, by the way, you’re waving that gun in the direction of my wife and various and sundry other bystanders, so could you please put it away? The young man survived the elk encounter; the cherry-red pickup did not, nor did the elk, in the end. This was our introduction to The Elk Problem.
When driving back to the log home from visits to Grandma Julie, if it’s spring or fall, you are greeting at Natural Lake exit by large highway signs that flash:
(In wintertime, this sign usually says things like, “Winter driving conditions ahead. 4-wheel drive or chains only.”)
Then, as you pull up over the rim of the plateau at dusk, you find yourself peering into the dimness, wondering, is this an elk herd? Is that? The phantom elk usually turn out to be some tree stumps in the gloaming, but still…Omegamom, normally a lead-footed driver on the highway, tends to go easy on the accelerator in these spots during Elk Season. The competition between a little Subaru Outback Sport and a 900 lb. elk will inevitably weigh more heavily (har!) on the elk’s side.
Shortly after Mr. Omegamom and I arrived in these climes, we went camping out on Three Lakes Road in mid September. Our method of finding a camping spot: turn off at the Three Lakes Road Country Store, drive down the dirt road, find another dirt road leading off in another direction, take it, find another, smaller dirt road, turn onto it, and so on. We found a lovely camping spot, parked the vehicle, unloaded and set up the tent, etc. (Digression: Why do so many people “camp” right at the edge of highways, rather than venturing further in? This is one of those things that has always puzzled me.) As dusk fell, an eerie sound started echoing through the trees…elk “bugling”.
For anyone who has only heard the phrase, not the real thing, it sounds more majestic than eerie. After all, it conjures up trumpets blaring a fanfare. But the reality is quite different. This was my first experience, and more than anything else, it reminded me of recordings of whale “songs”.
When elk are “in rut”, the bull elk have very macho encounters wherein they make lots of noise at each other, then rush each other, tangle their antlers together, and clash and bang for a while. A few years ago, while Mr. Omegamom was out in the field for a few days, I heard some very strange sounds in the neighborhood. It sounded like an animal was stuck in a neighbor’s utility shed, screeching and knocking over lumber. Screeech! Silence. Clatter, clatter, clatter. Silence. Clatter! Silence. Screech! Screech! Clatter! Silence. I padded out onto the back deck, wondering if I should contact Bill & Cindy next door, to see if the animal needed rescuing. I listened for a while, and finally realized that what I was hearing was a pair of bull elk in the Little Meadow, on the other side of B&C’s house, doing their manly thing.
A few years ago, in the Dry Year, the elk became our enemy. Our lovely little mailbox garden of hollyhocks, echinacea, yarrow, and daisies would grow, reach about 2 feet in height, be loaded with buds just about to burst into glorious bloom, and WHAMMO! The thirsty elk, wandering down our dirt road, would mow them down to 2-inch nubbins overnight. This happened multiple times. Mr. Omegamom swore revenge. He would waken in the middle of the night, hear rustlings and creakings, and march out to defend our precious poppies and dainty daisies in his white briefs, sandals, and nothing else, armed with a loud voice and a willingness to march belligerantly upon large, thirsty animals. One night, Mr. Omegamom was so incensed (this was about the fourth time our poor mailbox garden had tried to push forth blooms) that he marched out the front doors, scooped up some handfuls of cinders from the World’s Smallest Trailer Park landing pad, and ventured forth to do battle with The Evil Elk. He ended up chasing the elk down our dirt road (still dressed only in tighty whities and sandals), shouting and throwing cinders.
I will leave you with that image…