Sitting in Estes: Elk

Last Lent I did a series called “Sitting,” just observing what was happening in my backyard. I sat earlier this month in Estes Park, Colorado. Here’s what I saw:

To get the full effect of this elk sighting, you must picture me wearing exactly what I describe—do not add clothing where clothing is not mentioned: flannel robe, wool socks, hiking boots, parka, gloves.

I spotted an elk off the porch, so I walked below the cabin to investigate. Then I realized there were a clump of five of them. I tried to walk on the patches of grass because they were quieter than the ice-covered snow. Once I got my camera ready, I saw a bull elk off to the right. So there were six.

I followed. More appeared. Seven. Eight. Wait, 11. Two bulls and nine does. Eleven elk a’grazing.

The sun was right in my eyes. If I knew how to do the Kelly effect and had a camera that could do that sort of thing, I’d have a great shot. But my best bet was to somehow get ahead of them without scaring them and shoot from behind.

They were relatively tame. Not shy, but cautious. The bulls eyed me at all times.

I moved to the road, which made me more silent. Finally, I could descend again into the grassy plain, with a ponderosa pine behind me to block the sun.

They grazed. Nuzzled. Nickered, like horses. One attempted to mount the other.

I kept watching. They decided I was probably not a threat, but two to three kept watch anyhow.

I got cold. Hungry. I climbed the hill, walking backward, keeping them in my sight. Then I turned away and headed back to the cabin. I paused at the door and turned around to see if the elk were still there, but the sun was blazing, obscuring them from my sight.


  1. The first (and only) time I heard elk bugling was there, last October. It was thrilling and gave me the chills at the same time.