A few weeks ago my dad and I ran over to the ranch to hunt us up a bull elk. We saw nothing, which, of course, is spectacularly untrue. I should say that we saw no giant bulls, but we did see many other things, and that’s what I want to tell you about today.
We saw night bleed into day from the top of my favorite ridgeline, dawn unfurling into one of the most spectacular sunrises yet: the moon hung like a glowing white pearl behind wisps of clouds as one side of the horizon blazed pink and the other faded into blue. We saw hawks circling Hunt’s field, we felt the soft hiss of rain as it turned into afternoon. We saw four thick-furred coyotes at the top of the Johnson place, each turning to stare at us with baleful glares before trotting off through a herd of cows. They knew enough to fear us and seemed to resent us for it, as if they knew they shouldn’t have to except for the gun in my hands. I saw dried lupine, three good pieces of quartz, a rattling seedpod from a plant I can’t identify and two excavated wasp burrows in the ground (we think maybe coyotes or a bear, it’s hard to say). We saw one lonely elk calf, hobbling across the side of the ridge, his back humped in pain as he tried to graze with a bad leg. We saw how cruel nature is to the weak, how one wrong step over a fence or in a road can mean life or death. We saw the soft kindness of water to a dry landscape. We saw night steal back over the familiar curves of the valley, turning everything gray in the stormy twilight.
We saw no bulls. But we didn’t really have to, not really, to be successful. It would have been nice, but I’ve already had luck on my side this season. A bull would have meant being able to share more with my family and friends, but I can share the memory of the day too. It won’t feed you, but maybe it will sustain you.