the joke was the elk on the lake

I had prayed that I would see an elk while in Sweden. They live here. It’s possible. So just that day I had said I’d love that, especially since my little travel drum is elk-hide, harvested consciously by a northwest US tribe & then made into a drum by my teacher Pat.

On my walk later that day, out exploring this new (for me) terrain along this wide & long tributary of frozen water, I came over a hill & down the other side. What is this water? Part of the Baltic? A lake? A river? I didn’t know.

And there,

out on the ice,

I saw an elk.

I stopped in my tracks, literally. I stood & stared. You can just see it in this image to the left–that dot below the hill, on the frozen water, between the two trees. I went down to the water’s edge to get a closer view, but it was still too far to see details. I could tell, though, that it wasn’t moving. And I thought, does that happen here? Do elk or other critters walk out on the ice & then something happens like they fall asleep or the weather changes super quick & they get frozen on the spot? I’m not from around here. On the 48 hour journey to reach here from New Zealand, I watched an hour long documentary that followed reindeer, led by Sámi women in the far north. I learned there are hundreds of names for reindeer. So what do I know about elk on the ice?

I’m getting a bit frantic now. What do I do? Can I help it in any way? At the frozen water’s edge I make a prayer with my tobacco & a few tears. Then I march on to see if farther down the path will get me closer & give me more clues as to what to do. As I round the curves, the shape on the ice changes. Is it a boar, I think? Does it have little boars at its hind legs? As I climb the hill it gets even smaller & I think of a dream someone had for me, about beaver.

Just then along come 2 cold humans & their happy dog. The dog humps me as I attempt to ask the man my question about the elk. It’s not a small dog either. All good. Carry on. I try not to think about how I see pets as people’s inner animal incarnate–a critter who acts out their seemingly hidden animal natures.

In broken English (thank god for that, as my Swedish couldn’t cope with a conversation of this complexity!) he tells me it’s metal. For boat-drivers to know there is land there. Because there is an elk on it.

I don’t try to explain to them that I just made a prayer to their metal elk safety sign. Instead I thank them, walk on, see it in 2 dimensional clarity, & laugh at myself. “Be aware of false idols” I say to myself. Later my friend says –but you were sincere, so the idol wasn’t false.

What else was it I said?…something about being aware of two-dimensionality…

Things are not as they seem.

Nor are they otherwise.

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