POTD: Happy Ending?

Happy Ending?
Yellowstone National Park
2017

Not that great of a photo but I have an interesting story to go with it. Early one morning along Firehole Canyon Drive in Yellowstone, I came across this scene. Across the rushing river was this elk calf on a small triangle of rock and dirt surrounded on both sides and behind by cliffs that went pretty much straight up for 30 feet or so.

The mother elk was there trying to coax the calf to leave its perch and follow The water directly in front of its perch was shallow and relatively calm but both upstream and downstream as well as across the river in my direction the water quickly got deeper and swifter, so the calf would have nothing to do with leaving.

Eventually the calf did enter the water, several times in fact, and try to follow its mother to safety. Here’s a shot of one attempt:


As you can see, the going quickly became too difficult for the calf and it returned to its perch. There was a problem with the way it was headed anyway as in that direction (upstream) the cliffs continued unabated for at least a half mile. Downstream about 30 feet there was a nice slope from which it and it’s mother could easily exit the river and go on their way. But from the calf’s vantage point, all she could see was cliff.

The mother encouraged the calf to try several more attempts, but they were always upstream and always aborted in about the same spot. The calf finally gave up and just lay down all curled up on its little bit of safe ground. The mother turned and went to the slope downstream and started grazing.

I watched for a while longer and then drove on towards Old Faithful where I was to be selling my photos at the general store. After a mile or so, I couldn’t stand it and turned around and went back to the canyon to check on them. Nothing had changed; the calf was still curled up and the mother still grazing. So I went on to Old Faithful for my day there.

Some nine hours later, on my way back to my campsite at Madison Junction, I stopped by again. Both the mother and calf were gone. It’s hard to say what happened to them. It’s also hard to figure out how the calf got in that predicament in the first place. Perhaps they were trying to cross upstream and she got washed down to that spot. But given the unbroken cliffs upstream on that side of the river it’s difficult to what would motivate a crossing there. If for whatever reason it washed down to that spot from upstream it had a heck of a ride as there was rough water and serious rapids all the way upstream from there to Firehole Falls.

So there you have it, a story with an inexplicable beginning and an unknown ending. Not particularly satisfying. Sorry about that.

2 thoughts on “POTD: Happy Ending?”

  1. I was out early and no one passed by me on the road the whole time I was watching the elk. I was actually quite lucky to notice as I had only stopped to check something in the back of my van. Before getting back in the van, I heard a strange bleating noise, the calf, and it was then I looked across the river and noticed what was going on. Now I wish I had had the time to sit there all day if necessary to see how it ended. Of course my general restlessness would have made it very difficult just to sit there waiting for something to happen, so I may not have lasted long enough anyway. Perhaps it is better that it remains a mystery. And you are right, life and Mother Nature care nothing for what we hope will happen. Was I personally hoping for a happy ending? Yeah, I guess. To wish for anything would be mean and heartless. But I imagine I am less strongly hoping for a positive outcome than many (including yourself) might be. I am pretty much a fatalist in many ways I guess.

  2. I love that you notice these things. Your awareness and eye help you to not only capture stunning photos, but they also allow you to see things that most people wouldn’t even notice. Was anyone else watching this drama?

    It’s interesting to observe how much I hope there was a “happy ending”, though life doesn’t care what I hope for.

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