This has very little to do with Covid-19 OR with the waves of civil unrest currently sweeping the country. Therefore, I will keep it short and to the point: the dogs and I went to Benson Beach today, which is to say the beach at Cape Disappointment State Park (it was another amazingly beautiful day) and we saw a DEAD ELK. Fortunately, nobody rolled on or ate any of the dead elk.
OK! So, about 20 months ago when I first moved to this area, I lived for about 3 months in my tiny camper with two large dogs, a cat and eventually, my son, who slept in the back of the truck. It was a suboptimal situation. We moved back and forth between Fort Stevens, where you can stay up to two weeks at a time and Cape Disappointment, where you can stay up to three weeks at a time. And once we went to Newport and for the three days before the closing on this house we stayed at the KOA and swam in the heated pool like billionaires, but that is neither here nor there.
The thing that IS here or there is that the first time I found a dead seal on the beach on Cape Disappointment, I promptly reported it to the rangers. I felt that I was doing my civic duty of, um, exactly what I do not know. Look, I grew up near the Atlantic from Charleston to Connecticut and points in between and I never saw a dead seal before. It seemed important, somehow. And I don’t know what I expected the Cape Disappointment rangers to do, hold a funeral? Conduct an autopsy? They looked at me in mild pacific northwest wonder and said, yeah, animals die. It happens. Then they waited and I waited and when it was awkwardly clear that that was it and nobody actually cared about the dead seal, I left.
Now that I have lived here on the coast of the Pacific for twenty entire months, I am a seasoned veteran of dead seals and dead sea lions and dead birds and once, a sturgeon and often, smaller fish, although not often enough, because I want to make more gyotaku prints. I have seen – and chatted with! – lots and lots of live elk. But I have never seen a dead elk on the beach or anywhere else. This elk, to my eye, looked quite recently dead. There was blood on her face. She had not been torn open. She was not covered with vultures. So after we had looked briefly at the elk – and took a picture yes, of course – and then went on the rest of our beach walk (on leash this time because JESUS, please, no more rolling in the dead things, I’m out of dog shampoo) I stopped by the ranger station and reported a dead elk.
“Yeah,” said the ranger, “We know, it washed up a couple days ago. Washed in and out, then up.” We looked at each other and I, at least, thought about that image. “Okay then!” I said brightly, “Washed up, huh!”
And I left, realizing that in my late middle age I have become the Dead Animal Snitch of Benson Beach. Dead animal? Got a dead animal on the beach? I’m telling the authorities, by Jove! I’m REPORTING IT.
The thing is, though, I doubt his story. Washed up? From where? How would an elk wash up on an ocean beach? Elk don’t go surfing. Elk are not noted for their oceanic prowess. Where did it come from? And that elk was in pretty good shape for something that was washing around in the ocean for a couple days. Now, I grant you that I am not an elk pathologist and IN FACT all my experience with dead anything comes from reading way too many bad mystery novels but STILL. And also granted the ranger had no reason to lie, I mean, none. But STILL. I do not really think there is an elk murderer running loose and being covered up at Cape Disappointment. BUT. Who knows, eh? Who really knows?