A September Encounter

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While it saddens me to say goodbye to friends who retire elsewhere, I understand their reasons for leaving Craig. I can be as grumpy as anybody about life in my small town: the absence of shoe stores, medical specialists and grandchildren, the presence of turkey buzzards and un-muffled pickup trucks, the irritation of mosquitoes, the length of our winters. But my husband and I are content here; we will remain.

We chose to retire in Craig in large part because nature here is unbridled, immediate, a powerful presence easily accessed.

A few years ago, I experienced the natural richness of our area as I walked one of the many trails that twine like tendrils of spaghetti behind the Sandrock Cliffs north of town. The unexpected encounter riveted my attention and saturated my senses; to this day, a glimpse of furtive movement, a September sun falling on my face or the spicy smell of sage deliver it to me again.

I shared the moment  with a Sue, a friend, and her companion Eddie, a small dog of dignity, on a Colorado morning filled with the promise of perfection. Eddie was the first to notice. Romping and sniffing back and forth in front of us, he sensed another presence and froze in place, as though turned into a pillar of salt for disobedience.

Sue and I, involved in a wandering conversation, eventually became aware of Eddie’s lack of movement and, concerned, scanned the path ahead looking for him. When we found him, his intense gaze directed ours. Twelve yards to our right, a statuesque silhouette stood on the crest of a yellowed hill backlit by a blue-white sky devoid of summer’s intense luster.

“It’s beautiful,” Sue breathed with the wonder and excitement she reserves for a pot shard found on a desert bluff, a summit view of mountain peaks marching into distant clouds or the Yampa River, ice-bound and lined by frosted trees on a foggy morning.

The three of us — a dog on high alert and two talkative women pulled out of ourselves by what we saw — stood as still as the shadowed elk: its muscles quieted; its head and antlers turned toward us; each point and branch of its symmetrical spread outlined by the unpolished sky.

Eddie quivered with an electric charge of awakened instinct, his ears, like teepees, standing tall. Sue and I stared in silence, wanting to observe completely, to secure forever this September moment of motionless splendor.

The elk, the most imposing member in our stare-down, tired of it first. Our presence no longer interested him, and he told us so with a stately exit, turning in a slow, four-quarter beat, moving at a regal pace: unfrightened, unhurried, unimpressed.

We watched; and when we could no longer see him, we  exclaimed about his size, his power, his control of the situation and our joy at having had a front-row seat for his dismissive performance.

We then turned back to the trail, and Eddie again ran in front, patrolling for tantalizing smells. But an ordinary walk had been transformed to the extraordinary by our encounter with a commanding wild animal. A few blocks from our homes.

And that’s why I love living in Craig.

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78 thoughts on “A September Encounter

  1. Dear Aunt Beulah, Thanks for the great story, I understand completely. We moved to Colorado 21 years ago so we could be here when it was time to retire which we did a couple of years ago; though we grew up as Minnesotans our home is Colorado!! I guess someone could get us to move, if they had enough dynamite. Keep up the wonderful stories and thoughts on what life is all about. Tim Johnson

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    • I’ve been in Colorado for 21 years as well, Tim, and it’s nice to meet another transplant who feels about it the way i do.Thank you for reading my blog and for taking the time to tell me that you related to this post. I hope your retirement is everything you and your wife hoped it would be.

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  2. I visited Estes Park on several occasions. It’s in Colorado and on border of Rocky Mountain Park. My visits were usually in the fall, during elk mating season. They’d get so bold that they would walk down the main drag. I loved it:). Sounds like you get the best of the natural world where you are–which helps keep things in perspective, I’m sure!

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  3. Ohhh Aunt Beulah, what a truly wonderful post.

    Your words involved me and kept me reading… in fact, I enjoyed it so much that after I’d finished the post, I went back and read it again! LOL.
    I just wanted to be there, to feel the feelings which you were writing about.

    It must have been a magical experience. How amazing!
    Thank you for sharing with us.
    Sending love, as always, ~ Cobs. x

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  4. Lovely description of nature on a walk with a friend. I have been through Craig several times and have always loved it. I live in Denver, but I am thankful for the close mountains where I can escape the city and breathe in nature. I understand why you live there.

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    • I’m so glad to learn you can see the beauty in Craig, Laurel. I often think it suffers a bit from being so close to the spectacular mountains and ski scenes of Steamboat Springs. But the quiet life in Craig has its advantages. I like your statement that mountains allow you to breathe in nature. I agree.

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  5. I envy your location. I love being able to observe wild life in its natural surroundings. The only wildlife we see are coyotes, who are looking for a meal, or a flock of ducks and geese who come nightly to be fed. Thanks for painting this encounter with such vividness.

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    • On, Troy, the way you described where you live in your last post and how you are returning your acreage to its natural state and what you see there made me think you live in a wonderful spot I would enjoy as well. I’m glad you enjoyed my encounter with an elk.

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      • Bear and I were out one dusk and saw a doe, a mule deer. Bear was very, very quiet but alert. We watched her a long time then the wind shifted and she started looking for us. When she saw us she sprionged off. Bear remained still. I think Dusty would behave in a similar way, but he wouldn’t sit. He’d get in a hunting position. I’m looking forward to winter when, at the very least, I can follow their tracks. 🙂

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      • They sound like well-behaved dogs. Unfortunately my hiking and walking will become more restricted soon when hunting seasons for deer and elk begin — muzzleloading, bow, then three different general hunts that run into late October, which makes it difficult to walk and hike; plus the game moves to higher elevations.

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      • I know. Mine too. Usually by November — at the slough anyway — the novelty has worn off. Throughout the winter, there are lots of animals down here. I love that. Even the golf course changes from a golf course to a mini-wilderness in winter where the moose, elk and deer graze, trimming the lower branches, rolling on the ground and wandering aimlessly. And I’ll get to see my fox again.

        Yeah, these are not game chasing dogs and I’ve learned that leashed dogs are safer because an unleashed dog who sees a bear will run back to its human. Not good. I don’t want a bear running to me. Plus it was safer to leash my dogs on hiking trails where I saw rattlesnakes every day. So they are very well-behaved. They know we like to see things. They have gotten tuned to the flight of raptors and help me see them. I love that and they love the cranes. 🙂

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      • Your dogs sound like delightful walking companions in every way. I would probably describe them as I did Eddie: dogs of dignity, my favorite kind.Your words about the local golf course could describe ours as well in the winter: a mini wildlife area. It gets so much snow that it becomes difficult to walk around, but always, some soul hardier than I breaks a cross country ski trail, making it accessible to me all winter. The only animal you mention that I haven’t seen treating our golf course like a playground is a moose. I’d like to see one.

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      • I haven’t seen the moose, only the tracks of two cows and a baby the first year I lived here. They even came up my alley. I heard them in the night, too. There’s a slough beside the golf course and lots of good trees along the edges. Once two falls ago we went to the golf course and there was an elk reclining between the 3rd and 4th hole. I can’t wait until it’s mine again.

        Everyone knows I use the golf course in the off season. The people who work there and care for it all wave and say, “Hi Martha!” because I follow the golf course on Facebook and I’ve posted winter pictures. It’s great. One of the caretakers — and a really good golfer — is a young guy who lives at the end of the alley. I love living in a small town.

        We have a nordic club that grooms the golf course if there is enough snow. It’s an amazing track. I don’t have skis but I hope to get some this year.

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      • I, too, love living in small towns; but, unlike you, I have never experienced city life. I hope you get skis. I like my mental picture of you cross country skiing,gliding around a golf course. Will you have to leave your dogs home?

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    • Linda, I hadn’t thought that all of my descriptive words and phrases about the elk were different ways of saying it, too, had dignity. You are right. The two animals, so different, shared that trait. Thanks for calling it to my attention.

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  6. This is what I miss about Colorado. The Denver area has gotten so large and congested that I cringe to think of living there again but where crowds are scarce and the beauty of nature can still be enjoyed… yes, I miss it a lot.

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    • You aptly described the Colorado I love as well, Glynis. I enjoy the Denver area when we go there two or three times a year, but I am always relieved to return to the less congested, quieter western slope.

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  7. Godfrey would reckon, that time waited for you all, in the presence of elk magic. This is beautiful writing, Auntie. I feel sorry for folks who venture outside, yet panic if a wild creature is there. Happens here a lot, and the critter loses. Like to see your wee home when I retire…cheers.

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    • Godfrey would be right. It did seem that time stood still and it was elk magic. That same panic you describe takes a toll on mountain lions and bobcats in this area. I would love you to visit when you retire. When do you recon that will be?

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  8. Your words convey so well the magical experience of an unexpected bull elk encounter. While reading, I felt as though I was right there alongside you, Sue and Eddie on that September morning.
    Thanks for reminding me once again of the pleasures of small-town western life.
    Looking forward to Friday!

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    • It was magical, Rita. I feel I’ve been fortunate to spend my life in small towns in the west, though two of them, Spanish Fork UT and Carson City NV no longer qualify as small towns. I, too, am glad we’re getting together Friday.

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  9. Due to scaremongering, I think most people underestimate how much of Nature’s goodness is left on this planet. Surely, one must only need to step beyond urban boundaries and there it is. Often tattered about the edges, but in recovery as we strive to do less harm on our own patch.

    Thanks for sharing your magical encounter with the elk – the sheer power of your words had me sharing your delight. Why would you ever leave!

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    • I like your description, “tattered about the edges, but in recovery,” Christine.I’m glad my words allowed you to share my delight, the same way your photographs share your delight in nature with me — especially the recent one of the jumping kangaroo!

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  10. A wonderful description of a wonderful moment. Many people would just say “I saw an elk” but you were aware of a special encounter and then shared it so beautifully with others.
    Janet, do you remember many, many years ago when we were wishing we had social talents like singing, piano playing or spectacular dancing, and bemoaned our lack there of? You said “I think maybe my talent is I appreciate things and appreciate other people’s talents.” Yes, you do!
    And we appreciate your wonderful writing skill and the way you generously share your life.

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    • Thank your for this kind comment, Mary. You’d be surprised how many of our always interesting, usually rambling conversations I remember, and one of them is the funny/serious conversation you mention about social talents and our lack thereof. And though at the time I would have happily traded my ability to observe for being able to execute a sexy samba,I’m sure detailed observations inform my writing far more than the ability to wriggle my hips in time to music ever could.

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  11. Crikey! Aunt Beulah, I was sure you were going to say a bear, a big grizzly bear and my heart stopped….I am so glad it was an Elk because I don’t think a bear would have become bored of 3 adults and a dog…he may have had you all on a plate the minute you stumbled upon him…
    My gosh Aunt Beulah you sure do take me on the best rides ever with your stories..Once I knew a bear wasn’t involved I, through your description of the observent Elk, summing up his 4 visitors so intelligently ( yes he was a very clever Elk ), I can picture his bored face and his swagger as he surmised that ‘ these, like all the other strange creatures are just passing by and are harmless, Ho Hum!!
    You live in a beautiful part of the world it sounds like, and though I have never been there, you always take me right there Aunt Beulah, right in the moment with you every single time..
    It is beautiful and thankyou for sharing your September Encounter.
    I told you my dream has always been to find a pen pal who lives in another country , just to read their stories, adventures, life journey and more….I sure found me a couple of corkers ( you know who the other corker is ). Oh! a corker, what’s that mean, well in Aussie, an amazing, excellent, extraordinary, exciting, down right smashing great person..
    I write like I think and talk and know no other way Aunt Beulah..
    Love and hugs heading your way, I had white chocolate and raspberry muffins and a cuppa today…hope one day we can share☺
    From
    Annie in Australia 🌴🌞🌊❤❤❤💋💋💋

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    • It is like we’ve become pen pals, isn’t it, and it’s great fun. As for that other corker, now that she and Linda have accomplished their move, they seem to be running here, there and everywhere. They’ve turned into roadrunners! White chocolate and raspberry muffins, what a treat! My stomach has been growling since I read you’d had one. Oh my. Wouldn’t it be fun to share them? I’m glad you like learning about my world as much as I like hearing from you and the bit of Australia you bring to me with your descriptions and delightful vocabulary. Be well, dear Annie, I think of you often.

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