-John Eickert

Several years ago, I wrote about my one visit to Kashmir, Srinigar and Dachigam. The terrain at Dachigam is much like here in Montana. When I was there, decades ago, it was fall of the year and the hangul were mating. The male hangul create an interesting song as they defend territory, hoping to attract females. There is an animal here, a large deer known locally as Wapiti, or sometimes-called elk. The wapiti are a large member of the deer family, tan to brown in color, about a meter and a half at the shoulder and 200-250 kilos. The females bond into calving herds and spend most of the year in those groups, herd size ranging from 2 or 3 to 400 or more depending on terrain. The males grow branched antlers, which they polish and use during the season as do their ‘cousins’ the hangul. Wapiti have fascinated me since I was a child.


When I was young, I took to the mountains alone to track and watch these animals in their habitat. It was important to me then to experience these creatures by myself and in wild, remote settings. I wanted to have the elk all to myself and discover their secrets. I greatly regarded the notion of man alone in the wilderness, at one with nature, a naïve romantic notion.


One day I went exploring. It snowed the night before, but the sun brought a day crisp and clear. The rising sun softened the new snow, creating silent-perfect tracking conditions. I hiked a short distance after leaving my transportation then cut the tracks of a herd of wapiti, they were moving uphill. I spent the day following, moving in and out of forest and meadow, stopping for lunch and a rest, enjoying my own time in the sun. The shadows stretched as the day deepened and I turned for home without seeing the animals I spent the day pursuing. I decided to follow my own tracks, knowing they would take me back to my transportation. I walked along my own footsteps in the snow; within 20 meters, I saw other prints with mine. While I was tracking the wapiti, a mountain lion was tracking me. The lion tracks sent a chill up my spine and I realized I shared this wilderness with others with similar interests and sometimes those others were unseen.



 Yellowstone National Park is five hours from our home and fall is a special time there. Snow falls early because of the elevation and, like Dachigam, the male deer sing and display, hoping to woe females. While the wapiti gather for their natural process, humans gather to share the experience, creating, of course, another natural process. I no longer need to be alone to enjoy.


Seasons come and seasons go, though I remember the boy who was startled to see the lion track imposed over his own, I am warm with the memory. Take the time and go today, tomorrow may be too late. Cheers.

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