A Story: The Elder and the Elk

This story was shared with me, and I was told I could share it with you here. The original teller approved this version and asked that I not “credit” him, as he saw no need in this situation.

Some young Native men were not doing so good with their elk hunts any more. They decided they’d be more successful if they got rid of their rifles and ATVs and did things the old way. So they started running to get their stamina up. They learned to make strong bows and straight arrows. They practiced shooting until they could put an arrow all the way through a target at a dead run. They became superb trackers and learned to slip through the forest in absolute silence. When it came time to hunt elk again, they were feeling pretty good about themselves. They took their bows and arrows and went into the forest.

But they didn’t see a single elk. Not even sign.

So they took some tobacco and went to the house of a local Elder who was known to be the best elk hunter in the community. They asked if he would come hunting with them the next day. They figured they must be doing something wrong that he could show them. The Elder agreed to go. But the next day they waited a long time at the rendezvous spot, and he did not show up. So they asked him a second time. And a second time they waited for hours by the tall tree where he’d told them to wait, and he did not meet them. So they asked him a third time, to show they were really serious about it all. And this time he told them to come to his house tomorrow.

The next morning before sunup the young men waited outside his door with their bows and their arrows, eager as pups watching a kettle. The sun cleared the trees, and still the old man slept. They could hear him snoring. Finally, mid-morning, he came stumbling out with his hair going every which-way and sleep in his eyes, and an old rusty rifle in his hands that looked like it might not even fire any more. “All right,” he said, “Let’s go get some food for the people.” And off he went, stumbling and crashing through the woods, tripping over roots and banging into trees. The young men shook their heads and asked themselves what on earth they were ever going to learn from this guy. Clearly he’d forgotten anything he ever knew, and lost any skills he ever had. He could hardly even get through the forest in once piece.

But then they came into a clearing where an entire herd of elk had just been grazing. They’d heard the men coming and were already turning to run away. The young men whipped arrows from their quivers and started to run in pursuit.

But the Elder said, “Stop. Wait.”

The young men stopped. They turned to face him. He was an Elder, after all. They could hear the elk running through the trees, getting away.

“Help me get up on this rock,” said the old man.

The young men looked at each other. They shrugged and went to the old man. They helped him clamber up on top of a big rock at the edge of the clearing. The forest was silent now, not even a jay calling.

The Elder started to sing. His voice rang through the forest, thin like an old man’s voice, but strong the way a wind is strong. The herd reappeared, dark and slipping through the shadows. They paused at the edge of the trees. Then the women elk pushed three young bulls into the clearing. They came into the sunlight and stood silent, very still. The Elder shot two of them with his ancient rifle – one shot, a second shot. Then he thanked the elk for offering themselves and climbed down off the rock.

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