The cow elk has rested there for days after her struggle to free her right hind leg from the death trap of the smooth, “wildlife-friendly,” high-tensile-wire fence. Somehow she’d stepped between the bottom two wires and they twisted and tightened around thick, solid bone and she was already dead a day when I first saw the hump of her lying in the snow, her neck stretched out, her shoulder hard and cold, her recently pretty face caught in a tangle of sagebrush, her legs spread apart as if still running, the visible eye and a patch from her rump already gone. The last time I saw a live elk caught in a fence I also saw her ending, and I have regretted ever since that I didn’t just cut the wire to free that yearling calf’s leg. That’s what I would have done this time, fence pliers living in my pickup, but there was no need. I growled at the magpies and ravens who had shown me the elk’s whereabouts and were now impatient for me to leave.
Two days later, her rump mostly gone, her red ribs showed and some stomach products had spilled out. Her neck still reaching, her head still caught, like her leg, she had started to blend more into her surroundings, the snow packed down around her and muddied. A young golden eagle soared high above. Ravens perched on big sagebrush nearby, and magpies.
Today the ribs made the cage for which they are named. I could see clear through them to the ground beneath her. Hide gone even from her stretching, now bony neck, patches of fur lay about on both sides of her body and both sides of the fence and up and down and all around. With some of her facial hair removed, her teeth showed in a grimace, her eye even more socket than before. Such a futile, pointless death, just like the other one we’re hearing about on the news, both Tyre and this cow elk living their own lives and minding their own business until a product made to help someone else control something that had nothing to do with them stopped them in their tracks.
Today as I moved away, something else moved, too. Not a bird into flight—no, this was a land being, though it lifted up out of an arroyo as if it had wings, pausing to look back at me before moving on in a quick slink behind a juniper and off into the thick brush of greasewood and sage. I reached for my phone not my fieldglasses, to take a picture? Instead of just watching with my own eyes?
Bigger than border collie Jessi but less than half grown, it had red-tinged, fluffy, dappled winter fur clear down to the black tip of its long, fluffed-out tail. It had speed and stealth and sage on its side of the arroyo while I had stupidity on mine—because I didn’t want a picture, damnit, I just wanted to see the cat as clearly and for as long as I could but some dim habit of technology thwarted me, though I still have an image of movement up and out and behind and away, this wild being able to escape the existing manmade efforts at control.
I did go back to what had turned from beautiful large healthy free and wild animal into a ravaged carcass, to look at tracks. Because that’s what I do. And there beside the elk, sets of juvenile cat tracks, and just there, the nearly four-inch by four-inch round tracks of the juvenile mountain lion’s mother.
Some deaths are just all-around pointless. But this beautiful cow elk did a good turn in her death, giving all of herself back to the community. I can only hope that Tyre’s death prompts long overdue and necessary change within his community—the United States of America—though that won’t undo his dying or heal his mother’s heart or help George or Breonna or the thousand victims a year who die at the hands of US police, which I heard on NPR today.
I also hope that the lion hunters patrolling this valley so they can chase and kill and control wildness don’t find the little lion or its mother.
You do have adventures! I agree that the cats live wild and don’t get found by the hunters. I an not against hunting but not cats.
Yes, Pat, I agree! Mountain lions and bobcats belong in these backwoods way more than we do!
I have been thinking of you! I will see what we can do! You are the traveler. We traveling to AZ. For a friends wedding in MARCH.
I apologize. I was writing another friend with a similar name and guest on! Then I looked up and saw it was you!
Hope you are having a warmer day and sunshine. Spring will be here soon.
I envy your opportunities to observe nature so closely. Thank you for sharing something many of us don’t get to see.
Thank you for braving the technology jungle to comment!