At the cabin and the surrounding mountains, I’m surrounded by wildlife. I feel like I’m part of the same breathing universe as they inhabit, even if we perceive it differently, have different wants and needs. Under the same pine trees and big sky, we respectfully do our business side by side. I’m sitting at my computer writing, while the hummingbirds are having their daily skirmishes with each other, and the house wren is feeding its chicks and the ground squirrel is nosing around the wood pile for something to eat. We inhabit different worlds—they know nothing about computers, and I can’t climb trees, catch bugs in mid-air or eat pine cones—but we’re all connected by this place.
There’s an element of danger to some wildlife encounters. Last week walking around Meeker Park, I saw a very large animal in the willows across the meadow. At first I thought it was a bear, but when it lifted its head I could see the antlers. It was a moose, staring at me with what I perceived as a hostile look (below) . Moose have a reputation for being cranky, with poor eyesight, so I considered that it might just decide to charge for no good reason. With a top weight for a male of 1,500 pounds, standing between five and seven feet, and a charging speed of 35 mph, I started looking around for trees or rocks for protection. Luckily, it was more interested in the willow bushes than me.
The next day I was being extra cautious on the Hallowell Park trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, because I’d seen moose there before among the willows. But once I started hiking up the narrow trail along the creek and among the aspens and pines, I dropped my awareness. So I was startled when I paused on the trail to catch my breath and realized a very large animal was to my left, about three feet away. It took me a few minutes to ascertain that it was a bull elk, with a huge span of antlers.
But it wasn’t rutting season, when male elks attack each other and sometimes anything that’s moving, so we exchanged a few pleasantries, and I continued up the trail. Shortly after, I had the sense that I was being followed, and when I turned around it was the elk followed by a younger male elk (top). It was a narrow trail, with the creek on one side and a steep hill on the other. What was the proper etiquette here: who had the right of way?
Since it weighed some 500 pounds more than me, I decided to defer and stepped a few feet off the trail. It came up slowly, eyeing me warily, and as soon as it got even with me, it took off, while the younger male decided to err on the side of caution and climbed up the hill.
When I drove back down to Estes Park later, cars were parked along the road as people stopped to photograph herds of elk across the valley. Get on the trails, I wanted to yell to them, knowing that most park visitors wander only a few feet from their car. But I know these tourists are drawn to the same thing I am: something wild, outside of our civilized lives. One of the pleasures of living near a national park, where neither hunting nor dogs are allowed, is that animals have grown comfortable with humans and let us get close.
Kayaking at Lily Lake this week, I was in the water with the ducks (left), beavers, muskrats, fish and dragonflies, so close to the muskrat sitting on a tangled web of water weeds that I could see it teeth grappling with the tough weed.
One night at the cabin, I stepped out on the front porch to more clearly see two deer on the other side of our dirt road, munching on bushes. As I stood there, a hummingbird buzzed me, just a few inches from my face, checking me out. Later, sitting at my computer, I looked up to see the two deer step softly and shyly into the yard. It was early evening, the landscape bathed in the golden light of the setting sun, and they were sporting brand new velvety coats and antlers.
I breathed in the light, the rosy clouds to the east and their absolute gentleness.