What's Tony Thinking

The Call of the Wild


As we settled into our camp on Tuesday evening we heard a piercing shriek, followed by what sounded like a snarl or growl.

We were on the shores of Aneroid Lake in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Going to Aneroid was a bit off plan, but dry stream beds and a need for water led us lakeside.

As we waited for the water to boil for our “Risotto with Chicken” dinner, the eerie sounds shattered the silence. What in the world? At first we thought it might be a cougar (snarling) after downing a mountain goat or deer (high shriek).

Eventually we figured out that we were hearing the sounds of mating elks. The male (bull) elk typical has a harem of 20 or so cows. When the action is about to get underway the bull makes two sounds in very quick succession. First, through his nostrils, a very high-pitched whistling sound. Followed by something that sounds like a growl or snarl, produced by his vocal cords.

It’s pretty spine-tingling. It began shortly after sunset and continued through the night. Here’s a link to a National Geographic video if you want to listen in.

Further research indicated that the high-pitched sound, designed to travel some distance, says “I’m here.” The second sound, the growl or snarl, says “I’m big” or maybe, “I’m hot.” Elk did not, apparently, get the memo about gender being a “social construct.”

As noted, this discordant symphony went on throughout the night. In the morning, after we had broken camp and started up the trail, a bull elk appeared out of some trees in a meadow a hundred yards distant. A big dude. He eyed us in a way that seemed to say, “This is my place, my time. It’s time for you to go.” A half mile further up the trail he reappeared. This time the message seemed to be, “Just making sure you are on your way.”

It was a wonderful reminder that the natural world exists quite apart from us, from we human observers, hunters, occupiers, photographers. Snow began as we headed toward the 8500′ Tenderfoot Pass, as if to say, “You humans, your time is over for now. Begone!” We bid adieu saying, “thanks” for the evening concert, thanks for the eerie awesomeness, thanks for the reminder that the world does not revolve around us. (At right, photo of a glorious aspen grove)

(Third photo: As we headed to the mountain pass, the low lying clouds seemed to be pursuing us.)

As we worked our way up the trail, my backpacking buddy on this trip said that he had recently read a book by a neuro-scientist who said that this is what we humans were made for, what our brains were designed to do — to negotiate uneven surfaces, to work our way around rocks/ roots/ branches, etc. Doing this was great for our brains. Well, hallelujah!

My thought: aha, now I get it! This explains the City of Seattle’s street and sidewalk maintenance strategy. Uneven sidewalks, gaps, bumps, potholes, frequent sidewalk closures. It’s all about combatting Alzheimers. Who knew?

Well, it was a great trip. We crossed two mountain passes and walked the ridge-line of the Imnaha Divide. As we did snow blew horizontally around us driven by a strong south wind. It was really quite magical. And it re-inforced the message of the bull-elk: you hikers, backpackers, fisherfolk and hunters: off to your warm, tidy homes. Begone. This is ours now.



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