For the third day in a row, we've been hiking up to bolt rigs in the Mecca area of Ten Sleep. The hike is long, about 45 minutes, and winds up through open meadows to the tree line. Right where the meadow meets the trees is usually where the woodland creatures hang out. Lilah was leading the way as usual and, as usual, was just out of my sight up ahead. I heard some shrieking and thought she had jumped a rabbit. But this shriek was peculiar to me and one that I'd not heard before. I knew she was chasing something and there was nothing I could do about it so I tried to shrug it off. This scream though, had a primal urgency to it. The kind of sound that irritates the psyche of the modern man on a visceral level. I imagine it to be the same sound that made primitive man drool in anticipation of a meaty dinner. The repetitive shrieking was made eerier by the airy atmosphere. In the wide open space of Wyoming meadows, the sound has nothing to reflect off of and seems to be absorbed by the silent stillness like a screech in outer space. It was a supernatural sound that reminded me of a child's night terror.
I saw a flash of brown through the intermittent trees and assumed it was a deer. I continued hiking as the shrieks grew further away, occasionally punctuated by Lilah's characteristic 'chase yipping.' In the echoless atmosphere I could tell that they weren't moving away quickly and decided that intervention might be necessary. I dropped my pack and ran in the direction of the shrieks. The frequency of screaming never changed pace and quickly grew closer as I scrambled through boulder fields, talus, and downed pine. I was yelling for Lilah, knowing she wouldn't listen, and covering ground quickly. The shrieks grew nearer but never ceased in their frequency or urgency. I bowled through a thicket of sage to the tree line again and Lilah was standing there staring at me silently. She was covered in blood across her chest, legs, and around her mouth. It was her silence and motionlessness that sent a chill down my spine. It reminds me now of the two little girls standing in the hallway in the movie "The Shining." The complete stillness of the setting and the death cries of the animal being absorbed into the open space were chilling.
I ran to the screams and found a juvenile elk lying on the hillside. It was a female, about 80 pounds in weight to Lilah's 45. Lilah had run her down and the little girl had finally given up and accepted death. The weight of her torso was on the downhill side and her legs faced uphill in a final defensive gesture. She looked awkward and broken; a tangled mess of undeveloped, oversized limbs. She had multiple puncture wounds from Lilah's bites on her shoulder and an unhealthy amount of blood covering her leg. Her tongue arced upward from her mouth and flicked in beat with her screams of terror.
I stood there for a minute saying out loud, "Oh no, Oh no," then took a minute to yell at Lilah for being a total BITCH! "How could she do this," I thought. She probably acted on instinct through the chasing and take down all the way until the blood hit her lips and then thought, "Wait, I'm not really gonna eat this am I?"
I hurried down to the little elk and crouched down next to her. She was in shock and I think had accepted death. She wasn't moving at all, never making any motion to kick at me or defend herself. I ran my hand down her thick neck to her warm, pulsating chest. She was warm, her heart was racing, and she was still screaming but she didn't mind the interaction. Her leg didn't seem to be broken, just bloody. The puncture wounds around her shoulder were deep but despite the present blood, she didn't seem to be bleeding any more. Lilah had received the same kind of wound after getting bitten by a crazy dog in the chest. Her wound was deep but didn't bleed much and this little elk had suffered the same fate. I sat there with the elk, simultaneously stroking it, yelling "bad dog" at Lilah, and looking around for the father elk with the 26 point rack that I assumed was about to end me. Slowly the screams tapered in frequency and the little girl started to catch her breath. She became surprisingly calm and her breathing and heart rate started to slow. I got all Cesar Milan on her and used a quiet voice to tell her it was over and that she'd be fine. She never tried to fight me or move away, only occasionally looking at my face for reassurance that I wasn't a threat.
After a few minutes, I reached my arms around her body, interlocked my fingers, and heaved her onto her feet. She stood there looking at me, kind of wobbly-legged, for a moment, then made a few limping steps. She looked back one more time, then trotted off through the pines. As soon as she was gone I grabbed Lilah by the bloody snout and smashed her face into the ground. Lilah's a smart dog and could tell how upset I was and I believe she knew why.
I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging on my rope, 150 feet up a perfect shield of limestone. I was so absorbed in drilling, hammering, and inspecting every pocket and potential handhold that it wasn't until I saw the disappearing white flecks of snow melt on my pants that I spun around and faced the canyon. Miles of white and gold cliff tapered off into the distance lining both sides of the massive gorge. From high above the trees, I could see all the way down to the town of Ten Sleep and up to the Bighorn Mountains. I stopped long enough notice that my ears were cold and then watched a few more flakes land on my hand and transform into drops of water. Beneath me, I could see Lilah, wishing she was at home on the couch, licking every last drop of elk blood from her coat. She is such a bitch.