Posted by: highmountainmuse | May 11, 2009

Return of the neighbors

Horses grazing in a new spring evening on the mountain

Horses grazing in a new spring evening on the mountain

We’ve been watching their tracks around the mountain, knowing they have returned, though shy as they are, they have not stopped in to visit yet. 


No surprise… elk in these parts are known for being wild and free… and very elusive.  There’s plenty of land for them to stay away from us two legged here, and more often then not, they do.


Last week we saw them for the first time. First, a single cow elk, so close along the quiet trail as I was taking an afternoon stroll, as surprised to see me as I was to see her.  Then, in the evening hours, in the strong shadows of the setting sun, there they were across river, six or so of them, the “back yard covey,” as they are fondly referred to around these parts.  Though we have no quail on this mountain, our covey is made up of the majestic elk.  And they, like most on this mountain, come and go with the seasons.  For the few of us who stick around all year, they herald the changing of the seasons as they migrate off the mountain around the first heavy snow fall in autumn, and return again in spring as the last of the snow is coming off in the parks all around us, while just above tree line remains cool, wet and white.


We learn to watch them, from afar as not to disturb them in their own land here, yet know their favorite places to calve, to rest, to play in the snow banks.  They are untamed, and represent for us the vastness of this big wide mountain, rough and strong and often untouchable.


For a mile in each direction, we’ll see folks stopping on the road, pulling over and reaching for their binoculars to silently observe; or sitting on their porches in the late light of the end of day, watching this group of elk able to graze undisturbed.  Same place, same time, so safe and protected, yet so natural in their own element. It’s an area that most folks around here know the elk call “home.”  


This is no drive through safari on our mountain, with an overrun abundance of elk walking down Main Street.  The elk come here to be wild and free, to be away from man kind, to avoid us and just be elk. When we do see them, it somehow seems so much more real here. Having the opportunity to witness them in such an authentic and natural setting such as we are able to do as with our chance encounters on the trail, or in their haven across river, is a rare but very special treat. Here, we are the secretive and silent observer.  The elk are the ones at home.


Every once in a while, however, one of our two leggeds types visiting the mountain in search of the elusive elk will give up hunting and take to shooting… and this back yard covey is an easy target. A loss for the neighbors and tourists who then will loose sight of this herd for the next year or so, but still quite understandable.  Our county is 96% public lands.  That’s a lot of land to hunt on.  But hunting is a hard sport, and our country is not easy to get around in, on and through.  Shooting the backyard covey sure is a lot easier way to fill the freezer, though a bit of compromise on the sport of the hunt.


Invariably, nature here again proves herself stronger than man.  The elk hide out for a while, and then return, gracing us all with their mysterious, untamed presence; reminding us that life goes on, despite our losses.  They return to that haven of safety, security, and shelter.  Only, I imagine, to be lost again some day as the next two legged gives up the hunt…



  1. This makes me even more homesick for the mountain and everything that lives in it. When we were there in September, from our cabin, we watched a couple elk grazing across the river. I also saw a huge bull elk while hiking the Lost Trail Creek Trail one evening and felt a sense of awe as we respected each others positions.

    You are right about it being extra special encountering them in the true wilderness. I’ve seen them in Yellowstone in the summertime and at the National Elk Refuge this winter. They were so close I could almost reach out and touch them(and it was fascintating) but they were expected to be seen there and they were accustomed to people being nearby.

    Unlike the ones I saw near the ranch…they were an unexpected, magnificent surprise.

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