Twenty years ago or more, Darleen and I went for a hike in Alberta’s Elk Island National Park east of Edmonton. Its name notwithstanding, it is a refuge more famous for its herds of bison than elk, with warnings everywhere to be wary of the bison and not get too close. In fact, in the parking area there was in those days a graphic photograph of what could happen if one did get too close to a one-ton mass of aggression and attitude, a photograph that inspired a lot of respect.
We chose a trail that went in long loop (roughly eight miles, if memory serves), starting at the parking area and ending at the parking area. At a little over the six mile mark we came to a large marsh where the only way across was a narrow wooden causeway perhaps a hundred yards long. At the far end of the causeway, at the foot of the steps back down to the trail, there was a large bull bison dozing in the sun.
There was the bull. There we were. There we stayed. Our options narrowed down to waiting for him to finish his nap, or turning around and walking back, making our pleasant eight mile jaunt a somewhat more rigorous twelve-mile-plus schlep. We tried waiting, oh boy did we try waiting; we tried yelling at him; we tried positive thinking; we tried prayer, but it was clear this was a bull who had found his place in the sun and planned to get his beauty rest, so after about forty-five minutes we gave up and went back the way we had come.
I was reminded of this a few days ago when we tried to take our dogs to a dog park in a nearby community. It’s a very large fenced and mowed area in an even bigger park where we can let them off-leash to blow off steam in continuous wind sprints without picking up the foxtails in their fur which necessitate a good hour of grooming afterward. It wears them out (a tired dog is a good dog) without wearing us out (a tired dog owner is a grumpy dog owner).
We pulled into the parking area to be greeted by four giant bull elk grazing leisurely in front of the gate into the dog park. One of them, a magnificent eight by seven, was as large as any bull I’ve ever seen. Of course, with running the dogs being the only thing on my mind, I hadn’t brought my camera (that’s an old photograph above), so all we could do was leave the dogs in the car and stand and admire. And that was what we were doing when a woman in spandex and high-tech walking shoes showed up. She had a smart phone and took some pictures of the elk, but she seemed annoyed at having her path blocked, and when Darleen made a comment about the beauty of the bulls, she launched into an exasperated tirade.
Those same elk, those exact four, it appeared, had been on her lawn, on the front lawn of her house, mind you, and had grazed there too, pulling out great chunks of her grass, her expensive front lawn, her manicured and beautifully maintained lawn that she had spent so much money on, damaging it, and when she had told her husband to go out and shoo them away, he had said, he had actually told her to go shoo them off herself!
She flounced off on her hike in the opposite direction, away from the elk, and I found myself wondering at anyone who could find such beauty a nuisance. I think I would like her husband.