While preparing our Thanksgiving dinner at our favorite mountain hangout, I heard a bit of commotion outside. I stepped outside to see what all the excitement was about. Across the street several cars were slamming on their brakes, tires squealing, and pulling over onto the side of the road. Car doors opened and people started pouring out of the cars with their cameras ready. Wondering what caught their attention, I noticed two huge bull elk standing in the grass, grazing, and minding their own business.
The tourists seemed to be getting dangerously close to the elk trying to get their pictures. The basic rules of wildlife etiquette, so to speak, is to admire them from a distance, and do not invade their personal space. You do not approach them, you do not feed them, and if the animal changes its behavior, you are way too close for comfort. Apparently this group of shutter bugs either never learned the rules or chose to ignore them. One of the elk abruptly stopped grazing, lifted his head and stomped his feet.
The tourists backed off, but when the huge elk lowered his head and started grazing again they pressed in even closer. I guess they figured that the elk was just bluffing. He wasn’t. He abruptly lifted his head, snorted and jumped effortlessly over the fence, scattering tourists everywhere. I found it very amusing and highly entertaining, especially since no one got hurt, particularly the elk.
The huge beast stood in the middle of the road, looking annoyed, when he suddenly saw me watching him. He caught my eye and we looked at each other for a long moment. Finally, he tossed his head in the direction of the departing cars as if to say, “idiots!” I giggled and agreed wholeheartedly. Satisfied that we shared a common bond, he gracefully trotted across street, up the short driveway to just a few feet from where I sat on the porch railing. We sat together in quiet companionship for a few minutes.
He must have felt comfortable with me, because he lowered his head and began grazing again. He was so close that I could hear him pulling the grass from the earth. I could hear him chewing. As a matter of fact, he was so close that I could smell him. His scent was a little wild and game-y, but not unpleasant. I could see how it would appeal to his own kind. He must have read my mind, because at that precise moment he lifted his head and looked at me, as if to say, “You’re not so bad yourself.” I swear he winked at me as we shared our private joke.
He returned to his breakfast, and I returned to admiring him–his size, strength, grace and flexibility. I was honored that he was comfortable in my presence, when just a few moments earlier, other members of my species behaved in such a rude and barbaric manner. Maybe he figured that these unusual two-legged creatures were more agreeable when they weren’t encased in their hard metal shells that they had to break out of just to enjoy the great outdoors.
Eventually he finished his breakfast and looked off into the woods where a few of his buddies were waiting. He looked at me one last time as if to say, “I have to go….the guys are waiting for me.” I understood. He bowed his magnificent head, and I thanked him for his time, adding that he was not only good company, he was a gentleman as well. As I watched him leave, I remembered a phrase that I had recently heard. “Never underestimate the strength and the power of graciousness.”
There are so many lessons in this little story. But the most important one is obvious to me. Treating someone with dignity and respecting their boundaries is a lot more effective than trying to run them down. They may return the favor and reward you with a gift of friendship. That certainly is something to be grateful for, not only on Thanksgiving, but every day of the year.
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP