Common Ground

I looked straight into the eye of an elk today. He was grazing on some tall grass just thirty feet down a slope from where I stood.  That big, dark, glassy eye stayed on me like a great conversation.  Never blinking and fully engaged. It’s always been about the eyes. They tell so much, and how quickly they connect.

I had been creeping up on him in the woods for a closer look.  Thick, matted clumps of dark brown fur dangled from his throat.  His mid-section was embedded with what appeared to be abrasions where the fur had been rutted from some sort of encounter.  A predator? The hard strike of another bull’s antlers during a fight? Or he might have been entangled in a cluster of stubborn tree branches. It was hard to say.

As he tugged and chewed on the grass, I slowly positioned myself behind the one pine tree that stood between us.  Perhaps I had come too close.  My curiosity had completely ignored the possibility that this elk might charge me if his instincts deemed necessary.  He lifted his head at my movement, so that two eyes instead of one were now fixated on me. His thick, woolly neck stretched tall and unbending like a soldier at attention. He was on high alert, studying me.  The ten points of his antlers, if I were caught in the open, would slice and gouge me to an inevitable death. The sharp, explosive kicks of his hooves would crack my bones and sever my tendons, disabling any attempt for me to crawl and claw myself back to life.

But we continued to stare at each other—neither of us moving.  I wasn’t sure what to anticipate.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  I only knew that his mass was at least four times that of mine.  What was the purpose of me coming this close?  Why couldn’t curiosity have been satisfied to stay a hundred yards back? His eyes, however—there was something going on.  Perhaps we were each seeing the same thing.

Perhaps that is why he then relaxed.  This soldier stood at ease.  As if some part of his instincts had told him I was as harmless as the pine tree or the breeze that swept through it. As if our eyes had discovered a mutual understanding that this was common ground. Could it be that he did not run, because he trusted me? Could it be that I did not flee either, because I trusted him?  I would like to say yes.  I would like to believe that something wonderful did, in fact, occur.  Perhaps indescribable, but, still, wonderful.  Because of an elk, I was fully alive.

For fifteen minutes I watched him feed on the tall grass, shifting his weight in the pine needles and sandy ground as he ate.  For fifteen minutes I admired his presence with all that I could, because I knew that the moment of our final separation was approaching.  The grass was sparse here.  He would have to move further into the woods to appease his appetite.  For fifteen minutes I watched him, until he disappeared.


Copyright Ros Hill 2016


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