While elk are majestic creatures, they also know no manners when they wander among homes in the mountains of Colorado, munching on anything in sight. BoomerCafé co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs has learned to just accept the elk as … well … sometimes unwanted but lovely neighbors.
On a recent weekend I found myself bad-mouthing elk. I live in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and I was shuttling some out-of-town artists to their cars at the end of our town’s annual festival called Winterfest, and we had to stop for a herd of a hundred or more elk meandering across the parking lot of our local high school, as if they owned the place. The nerve of those elk!
I explained to the strangers in my midst that the elk are pretty to watch, but pesty to live with because they chew on our tree trunks, pull off our branches, eat up our flowers, and leave a mess of little black pellets wherever they pass (although it was kind of cute when our little three-year-old son — now 30 — saw his first pile of elk poop outside our brand new house, picked up a piece, held it out in front of my wife and happily said “Look Mommy, chocolate.” She kept him from popping it in his mouth only in the nick of time).
But as I was telling my passengers what a pain the elk have become, I was watching them watching the animals and suddenly, for the first time in a while, I saw what they saw: the majesty of the herd, not the mess it leaves in its wake. Which reminded me that there are two sides to every story. One side is, we have more elk where we live than ever before and yes, they are pests, and in the almost 30 years I’ve lived here, they have multiplied manyfold. The number of animals using our yard nowadays (and our neighbors’) as their personal snack bar has become intolerable. Don’t try planting anything if you want it to last more than a week.
But the other side is, a herd of elk is still a beautiful sight to see. It is a metaphor for the reason most people live here in the Rockies — and tolerate the deep snows of the winters and the destructive annoyance of the animals — rather than residing somewhere in the flat, grid-like, amorphous and animal-free mass of cities and suburbs. When I thought about that, it made me mindful, in this season of thanksgiving, that no matter how big a pest the herds have become, we have a lot to be thankful for. Better to put up with hungry elk in Colorado than indiscriminate killers in Syria.
Sure, there are imperfections in our lives; some come naturally and some we bring on ourselves. But there are imperfections in everyone’s lives. When mine are held up against others’, they’re pretty darned small. Anyway, putting a half-full glass instead of a half-empty one into the old ad campaign for milk, We Got Elk.
BoomerCafé co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs lives with his wife in the Colorado mountains above Denver.