Terry Greene Opperman

From the Wild Elk

Enter the dream time and bring a prayer.
What do you say to the wild world? Can you summon images of critter encounters from the deep chambers of your heart? We all have a keeping place where Sacred Others wait to be remembered. Are your wild animal memories warm or cold blooded, four-legged, or with scales? Mine often have wings.

Ascend now from this memory place, what do you say to them? Perhaps remembering time before time, when we listened and spoke beyond limitations, we understood many kinship languages. Let’s spend time eavesdropping now and create a practice of deep listening to Others. The wild world loves a good conversation, and most critters appreciate a good prayer. Their vocal sounds cause our Souls to hum because they are Ancestors.

My First Passage
Once upon a time a woman emerged from a cocoon of colonial capitalism. This cocoon was tightly wrapped because she had been a good corporate slave. The wildness of her youth had been sucked out of her, and she had grown truly city-fied. She ended that stage of life by trading high heels for hiking boots.

See into this woman who was me before transformation changed everything. I swoon with respect and I love her naïveté. To rewild, I intentionally unwound her threads by walking in devotion with my dog, Sierra, and the Grandmother Spirits. I could barely understand my own wild insides. Ask and listen, this was our song and dance. Land revealed the unwinding threads on the ground. Because it was painful not to, I learned to trust and follow intuition.

This was a liminal time when I lived with Elk. So regal, so wild and unbound, Elk were a communal living culture, led by the matriarchy. That 45-year-old me felt desperate for transformation and they were my closest teachers. Change came subtly and slowly in this examined life and I celebrated a long Rites of Passage on the mountain, with various wild critters, and the Grandmother Ancestors.

Sierra and I lived at 8000 feet on Evergreen Mountain in the shadow of Mount Evans, one of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains. We moved in late summer and immediately began gathering firewood. This is where I first learned a life-saving skill, how to chop wood into kindling to burn in a potbelly stove. Our new place was a 1940s dining car that had been hauled up the mountain as a mess-hall for loggers. This primal place had a two-seater outhouse, and I still miss the imaginary company. Beginning in 1996, Sierra and I lived in this boxcar for 2 years. A destination at the end of a dirt road, alone with the wild, this lofty cabin became so very dear in my heart. A major transformation was underway, I became a mountain woman and gained a Soul imprint. As a distance learner in grad-school in Denver, we didn’t need to go very often, so we created a pattern for a contemplative life.

Sierra became a beautiful character during those years. She was one to three years old, and became wild and fiercely protective, much like her Akita Chow heritage. Every day we hiked with the Spirits of this place and lived in great peace for all those sacred months on the mountain. We learned to live around the seasons, to identify the native medicinal plants and wildflowers of Colorado while we walked all the trails in Jefferson County Open Spaces. A chord of magic and spontaneity wrapped around us like a Mobius strip in motion. Wild and free together, we ignited our curiosity and solidified a trust that lasted our 16 years of walking together.

From the beginning we dreamed with Elk living nearby. Sierra and I shared a single bed, which seemed important for our nature intelligences. Feeling secure is vital for spiritual growth. One night when the snow had become too deep for travel, she woke me with her low growl. From deep in her chest, this respectful growl was like a whispered bark and always appreciated. Instantly awake under moonshine three hours before dawn, we watched an entire herd of Elk trudging down the mountain. The females were leading the way and we even saw them trading places. A practiced pattern, forty or fifty Elk in community slowly stepped single file, like a ceremonial parade.

It’s easy to become an Elk now, with this old vision of the females knowing the way down to the valley floor. Their half-grown youngsters walked easily in the center between their mamas and a dozen big bulls in the rear. Joining this community in spirit makes me glad I’m alive. The transformation that happened to me was a miracle of spiritual intent. I relish this memory and feel immensely happy to realize Elk still live and thrive abundantly in a broad corridor from way up here in North Idaho into the prairies south beyond Colorado.

We are all related. We are related to everything. This is a good prayer.

Driving up the narrow mountain roads lined with fences, it was common to stop and watch Elk. Especially entertaining, bull Elk do an acrobatic dance to cross the fence. A big bull raises his nose into the air, presses antlers to his flanks, and raises high up on hind legs. He gracefully springs from those back legs over the fence, smooth and obviously practiced. Those thirty seconds invite an energy — become an Elk, wild and unbound.

Estes Park Youngster, 2023