We went hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park last week. We were happy to be in the mountains and see the beautiful fall colors. We chose a trailhead that was at the base of a picnic area where dozens of people were making all sorts of loud and delightful noises. I figured that meant the trail would be busy with other hikers. That ruined our chances to see any wildlife. Oh, well.
We hiked about 300 yards up the trail. The trail was deserted. I heard a noise in the woods to my left. I grabbed my husband’s arm and whispered, “Mike….look!” We saw two female elk with a young calf, less than 30 feet from us! Never before have we come this close to a small herd of elk. My husband immediately pulled out the camera. He whispered back, “Oh, wow! The calf is nursing!” He was so focused on taking pictures that he didn’t see what I saw next…. a huge bull elk had quietly appeared out of nowhere and was staring us down. Uh-oh.
“Ummm, Mike,” I whispered, “There’s the bull!” No response. Trying to stay calm, I said again, “Mike! There’s the bull!” I tried to smile at the enormous beast (the bull, not my husband) and assure him that we meant no harm to him and his family. My husband finally turned to look at him. After he regained his composure, he started walking toward the huge buck to take his picture. The elk responded by running and turning in place, letting us know he was ready to charge to protect his territory and his family if necessary. He walked across the trail and stood there, blocked our path and stared us down once again. He lifted his huge head and began swaying it slightly to show his rack, another form of aggression. His message was loud and clear. We were in his territory. We weren’t welcome. We were crossing the line in the sand and overstepping our boundaries. We weren’t respecting his personal space. That bull was prepared to defend his home, himself and especially his family.
We slowly and quietly started to tiptoe backwards down the path (no easy feat in hiking boots). We didn’t turn around until the bull turned away from us to check on his herd. Once we were off of the trail, we couldn’t even speak to each other. We were overwhelmed by the experience of what we saw, as well as relieved that the bull had the grace to stand his ground without charging at us, and gave us the opportunity to leave in peace with our dignity intact.
There is a lesson in boundaries from this experience. It is important to set boundaries for yourself. It’s important to respect the boundaries set by others. It’s important to respect someone else’s property. It is especially important to be respectful of someone else’s family. It’s okay to come in to some one’s territory when you are invited, but understand what the limits are, and don’t push them. You never know where the bull is, quietly watching and ready to charge. Just in case the need arises.
The female elk grazing in the woods.
The young calf getting some nourishment.
Need I say it?
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP