The elk stood
a prisoner inside walls of white.
I stood on the boardwalk watching
his tall antlers sway like dead trees
on the frozen landscape.
The elk moaned again-and-again,
pleading for help or begging death.
He trotted in to Mammoth Hot Springs,
trapping himself shoulder high
in a sparkling cell of calcium carbonate.
I stood on the boardwalk wondering
how long he had been there.
Every now and then, he went back
on his hind legs, attempting to push his way
up, over, and out. But the walls were too tall
and he was too far off the boardwalk
for any of us passersbys to do very much
but take photographs and remark about
After a while, the moans
whined down to whimpers and then to mutters.
A ranger arrived—
and with him, renewed excitement.
Everyone asked if anything can be done
to help the poor bull.
“No. No,” he said.
“We can’t interfere with nature.
If he can’t free himself,
he will die there and be scavenged.”
Just as the ranger finished his grim assessment,
the elk catapulted itself up, out, and over.
Everyone cheered as the elk trotted off
as though nothing had really just happened.
I was on my way out West,
moving away from what had been home.
I thought it was rather brave
that the bull never looked back
at the spot which might have been his grave
had he not gotten himself out.
I also thought
how it is only when we are given no real hope
and we give up on others to help us out
from the prisons of our own making—
that we truly discover how strong
or weak we really are.
I was proud that the elk freed itself
and that I had stuck around long enough
to learn that the fate of those beautiful bones
was not to be
locked on the side of this mountain
on this day.