They lined the ridge, bodies silhouetted against the fading daylight, looking more like mythical creatures than elk. For a long time, they waited there on the precipice, staring down into the valley, deciding, debating. Then they flowed over the edge, first a trickle, then a dark wave, breaking around rocks and weaving among trees. They graze as they go, except when crossing the revealing patches of crusty snow. There they trot, avoiding those moments of exposure where their bodies don’t blend.
I become a statue on my porch as the massive herd surrounds me. Knee high yellow grass whisks around their legs and snow crunches under their hooves. They graze around me, the sound of tearing grass drifting up to my perch. Darkness advances, turning them into shadows and chirps. They drift away after a few hours, an ebbing black tide of elk.
With the light of day, I hike to the ridge top, wanting to see what they saw, feel what they felt. The ground reveals little of their passage, a turned stone here, a single hoof print there. Wind is the only sound as it sings through the pines. From the crest, the world runs away in three directions. Splashes of snow on northern slopes, golden cascades of grass on the southern. Peaks rising like dragon spines into the sharp blue sky. To the south, the mountain towers above me. A road of snow rushes out of the woods, its surface churned and mangled from hundreds of hooves. It calls me, enticing me to retrace their footsteps, to follow that white path under the pines.
My feet are rooted to the earth. The incredible silence soaks through to my soul and the sound of my footsteps would be a blasphemy in this sacred space. I inhale the perfect air and check the position of the sun. It sits close to the horizon, cloaking pines in diamonds that put Christmas lights to shame.
Again the elk road beckons. I turn away. But only for today.