The Woman Who Stared at Elk

The road is a glorious two lane stripe of asphalt that flanks the northeast side of Mt. Rainier National Park. The day was dry and the light was beautiful, but the top of the mountain was not to make an appearance, the clouds blanketed the highest parts. Never mind, never mind, the air smelled amazing and there was very little traffic.  I stopped a few times to look up at the jagged rocky skyline, to take big deep breaths of forest air, and to wait for what few cars there were to pass and leave me to the silent altitudes.

I had been out of sorts for a few weeks, wilted and unfocused from the heat waves that hit Seattle and then, just glum. So I handed off my work — there’s this phase all writers know when their work is “out” and we wait for it to come back, covered in red ink or not — and looked at the map. I hit up some friends, “Hey, I think I’m coming to visit, is that okay?” and pointed the car east.

There’s a junction on Mt. Rainier where the road goes up a spur to Sunrise. I didn’t go that way, I took the hairpin turns past Tipsoo Lake and then rolled down into the Yakima Valley. The forest is tall and green in spite of the terrible drought the region is having, and it’s so nice to drive in the shadows of the northwest giant. Because there was no one behind me, I slowed down and looked out the window. At the back of a grassy gold meadow, I spotted a herd of elk.

“Guys. Check out this human. What weird critters humans are! “

I had to do a u-turn to go back to get a better look at them. I pulled on to the gravelly shoulder and turned off the engine. There we sat, the elk and I, staring at each other for a good long time. Eventually, another car stopped in front of me, and then, one on the opposite side of the road, closer to the elk. The elk were not keen to have a crowd so they turned their white butts towards us and wandered into the trees. I restarted the engine and continued east until the trees turned to sagebrush and the rocky hills to grasslands and the asphalt spread wider and wider until it was a freeway going fast into places that were hot and open and nothing like the slopes of the great mountain behind me.

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