The carcass lay in the small stream below the pond. It’s a harsh word for the once graceful animal, a young cow elk whose small head and hooves made me think she’d only lived a short two years. Carcass. Her eyes were still liquid and soft, looking upwards to the sky. Below that stare, a gaping hole in her neck held a pool of blood large enough to ripple in the morning breeze. Her hide was half gone, ribs exposed. Her head was untouched, her eyes seeming to watch, making her more than just a carcass.
The wolves killed her, a natural death. When I followed the trail of blood back, I found they had first brought her down just behind my cabin, maybe 10 yards from where I lay reading in bed. I thought I heard something, but the cat didn’t notice, so I didn’t get up. The unidentified sound was soft, and soon gone, so I put it off to mice rustling somewhere, rather than the sound of animals moving in the snow. Perhaps that is how death can work, like creatures pushing softly through snow in the night. How the elk made it another hundred yards over to the pond is unknown, with wolves on her and blood streaming.
We felt it best to move the carcass from the middle of the ranch, and the caretaker wrapped a chain around her neck and hauled her off with the bulldozer. Blood streamed from her mouth as the chain tightened. The body wobbled and bobbed as it slid off. I was sorry to remove the kill, for the wolves brought her down, and the wolves need to feed on her. But it was a necessity, with dogs and horses in that pasture.
The ranch lies within the wolves’ home, and is habitat for so many species. I am always grateful to live within this wild community and experience the natural cycles of this land; this has shaped who I am and how I see the world. And so I reflect on this event, finding no word for the emotion that rises from such a raw death, and discovering the kill occurred so close to where I lay peacefully in bed, with soft music and a purring cat. It is not even an emotion, so much as a stillness.
Two days later, I went to the carcass hoping the wolves had found it. They had, for their hand-size paw prints led almost up to the dead elk. But there were no wolf prints at the body, and the elk’s remains had only been picked at. It was hard to say if the wolves – at most two, maybe one – had actually eaten from the elk.
There were prints near the dead elk though. They were elk prints, right next to the remains. Close enough that the living elk could have put its nose on the body. I would think an elk would flee the site of a wolf kill. But no. Curious? Mourning? And I am left again with the knowing that more happens in the greater community than we understand.