A surprise encounter elevates a leisurely stroll

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Janet Sheridan

While it saddens me to say goodbye to friends who have decided to retire elsewhere, I understand their reasons. I can be as grumpy as anybody about life in Craig: the absence of shoe stores and grandchildren, the presence of turkey buzzards and muffler-less vehicles, the irritation of mosquitoes, the hardships of winter, the insensitivity of dogs that bark nonstop and sidewalks that are non existent or cracked and lifted like ice floes by the roots of elderly trees.

But I am content here; I will remain in Craig.

Perhaps I feel this way because I’ve lived other places and am relatively new to the region or because my nerves jangle in heavily populated areas with six lanes of traffic; but the primary reason I chose to retire in Craig is that Moffat County hasn’t been paved over: nature is unbridled here, uncontrolled, a powerful presence easily accessed.

Two years ago, I experienced nature’s magnificence as I walked along one of the many trails that twine behind the Sandrocks like tendrils of spaghetti clinging to a pot.

An unexpected — but not uncommon — encounter, it lingers in my memory; and a glimpse of furtive movement, a September sun washing my face or the spicy smell of sage instantaneously can pull it back into my consciousness.

I shared the moment with Sue, a friend with an enhanced appreciation of nature, and her companion Eddie, a small dog of dignity and enthusiasm, on a September morning that promised perfection. Eddie, romping and sniffing back and forth in front of us, noticed a fourth presence on a hill and froze, as though turned into a pillar of salt because he disobeyed.

Sue and I, our senses slowed by our nonstop, wandering conversation — a book recently read, a husband’s mistimed use of humor, a shared fondness for red wine and chocolate — eventually noticed Eddie’s lack of movement. We scanned the path ahead, located him, and followed his intense gaze. Twelve yards to our right, a stately silhouette stood on the crest of a yellowed hill, backlit by a blue-white sky devoid of luster.

“That’s amazing,” Sue breathed with the contagious mix of wonder and excitement she reserves for a pot shard found in red desert dirt, a summit view of mountain peaks marching into distant clouds or the Yampa River, ice bound and lined by frosted trees on a foggy morning.

The three of us — two talkative women pulled out of ourselves and a dog on high alert — stood as still as the shadowed elk we watched: its muscles quieted; its head and antlers turned toward us; each point and branch of its symmetrical spread outlined by the unpolished sky.

Eddie quivered with an electric charge of awakened instinct, his ears, like teepees, standing tall. Sue and I stared in silence, wanting to observe completely, to secure this September moment of motionless beauty.

The elk, the most imposing member of our tableaux, tired of it first, turned to a slow, four-quarter beat and disappeared at a regal pace of his choosing: unfrightened, unhurried, unimpressed. His stately exit making clear to all of us that he had won the stare down.

We watched as he disappeared and, when we no longer could see him, exclaimed about his size, his power, his control of the situation and our joy at having had a front-row seat for his dismissive performance.

Then, Sue and I resumed our walk and conversation while Eddie patrolled for tantalizing smells and forbidden snacks; but an ordinary event had been lifted to the extraordinary. A few blocks from our homes.

And that’s why I love living in Craig.

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