A Guest Blog by Virs Rana
For a long while, I felt this was a story that could not be told, because I could make little sense of what really happened. To me, the experience was…and I hesitate here because I'm not sure how to use this word, ‘miraculous’, that is to say, outside the normal occurrence. But as we are frequently informed, there are inexplicable events every day in all areas of peoples’ lives.
Still, I found it difficult, as if I was protecting something special that would be diminished in the telling. And then, there was my ego trying to convince me I had achieved a certain purity of heart, or mind, or spirit. But I had not. I was ignorant, self-serving, even dishonest in my behavior. So why me? Later, I found the answer to that question, and as the saying goes, 'It’s all in the timing', and the opportunity has now graciously been given to me…
It was a clear blue-sky day, mid-morning in the fall, the air still crisp from the cooling night. The jutting mountains, with their embowering pines and aspens, provided a comforting seclusion from the outside world. I had driven up the narrow dirt road near the building site, a plateau of trees and flora turning to reds and golds among the evergreens. I had to hike the last quarter of a mile on foot. I grabbed my daypack out of the bed of the pickup truck and began to scale the circuitous path. I breathed deeply, as you can only do at the higher altitudes, and the infused fragrance carried by the morning dew filled my body and thoughts with promise. As I got about a third of the way up, I stopped…cold…
It was unusually silent. Birds were not fluttering from tree to tree. Their chirping had ceased. The chatter of chipmunks was absent. I looked up. There were no hawks circling overhead. Then I heard it, in the distance, the echoing crack of a high-powered rifle. Of course, hunting season had just begun. The pristine ether of the forest would frequently be shattered for the next few weeks.
It's interesting how, to some, that blustering 'civilized' sound is a clarion call, and, to others, like myself, it is a violent intrusion. The gun argument aside, I have no problem with humans hunting and foraging for their food. It's the sport aspect, the antler trophies, that bothers me. But I dismissed these thoughts, remembering that we come to our 'senses' in good time, or so I believed.
I continued up the path, which coiled around the plateau, and I remembered what the local *American Indian realtor who had sold me the site had said, "Listen to the land. It will tell you where to make your house." I had heard this before, but didn't put much value in it. But I tried, camped out on the land, became familiar with its wildlife, and finally picked the spot with the best view.
Reaching the top, I threaded my way through the pines and aspens to the southern edge that looked out over the lush meadow that skirted the plateau. I saw that the creek snaking across the property was being dammed by a family of beavers, and a large pond was beginning to form. New neighbors, why not, I thought.
Kaboom! Again, unfurling from another direction…I turned toward the sound and gazed into the foliage across the plateau. The red, orange, and green palette seemed to shudder…Or was it me…No, something had moved, something big. I slowly and quietly drifted through the trees and into the dense thicket, and froze. It could be a camper or a hunter passing through, I guessed. Then I saw them, the pointed tips of a large pair of antlers floating atop the burnished leaves of brush. Surely, he had caught my scent…
Thus it began, the deliberate and cautious strategy of human and wild animal 'feeling' each other across the great divide of noise and silence, cacophony and symphony…I moved…It moved…We moved in unison, a dance around the recognition of other life. Catching glimpses of colors, shapes, seeing more, and less, quickened by some revived connection… I lost all track of time, but it seemed like this play was inherently choreographed, an ancient ritual with roots in a new and vital earth.
Moving on pure instinct, I eventually found myself in a small clearing, I stopped, feverish, yet surprisingly calm. My thinking returned, and I thought, perhaps, this wild animal might finally show itself, a curiously improbable notion.
Suddenly I felt it, a presence I'd never experienced before, a strange energy pulsing, surrounding me, entering me…I breathed in a different world, comforting, sustaining, vibrant…Yet not different, familiar, like living the dream that set you free. I slowly turned to my right and saw it, a most magnificent elk arcing into the clearing, no more than thirty feet away. Part of me was stunned, and the other part said, 'This is the way'…I watched as this regal animal stepped definitively, purposefully, until it stood directly across from me in full profile. I could see the details of its tawny thick coat and the dark brown swath highlighting its broad chest. He turned his head toward me, and large elliptical eyes captured me, told me a story I could not put into words. Then he dipped his head slightly, like a bow, or greeting, and turned back so he could watch both his flanks.
The only thing that crossed my mind, at this point, was how to respond. Stand motionless, just observing? Try getting closer? Closer? No, he had defined the space. Just observe? No, it was my turn…so I spoke. "Hey, you're an awesome animal…I appreciate your trust and your greeting…I guess you know they're after you…" Not exactly profound or poetic, I know.
He exhaled a snort and stomped at the ground with his left front hoof, three times. I waited, struggling; what could it mean… About thirty seconds passed, no time, no thinking, just being together; my turn again. "Be careful when you go to water," I said, "Take care."
Then this mysterious, extraordinary animal casually stepped into the brush a few yards off the clearing, and was gone. I didn't hear anything and raced toward his exit point to see if I could spot him running into the meadow toward the creek. Nothing…another gunshot echoed in the distance.
I started to come down, or back to reality, as I knew it. What just happened? Why didn't this hunted elk bolt when he first picked up my scent or heard me on the plateau? He did not appear to be wounded or disoriented in any way. As I said previously, I was, and still am not a man of the wild, or some enlightened being. The stories of Francis of Assisi come to mind. Yes, accidental and surprise confrontations in the wild happen every day, but this was more than accidental. This transcended every wild animal to human relationship I had ever heard of.
Finally, I dismissed it as something I had inflated beyond the coincidental. But it would not lie. It even came up in my dreams. So I told a good friend, as best I could, and she said it was a special gift.
"From whom or what?" I asked.
"That's for you to decide," she replied.
"You mean like God, or the Universe thing?"
"Have you ever heard of that happening before?"
She had me. I thought for a second, then said, "No."
"Maybe you need to listen to the elk," and she walked away.
*Many 'American Indian' friends told me that's what they preferred to be called, rather than Native Americans, as anyone born in the U.S. can be 'native'.
Virs Rana 2013