Pema and I had wandered into an isolated arroyo, one of those unremarkable places that is neither here nor there and is rarely visited by anyone except lizards. The floor was pure sand, and though evening was setting in we took off our shoes and felt the still-warm earth.
We walked a little ways, climbing over rocks and pools of red-brown clay. The walls grew steep, closing us in, so that every felled tree or twist in the wash felt like the entrance to another room. At last, we found an enticing spot - no better than where we had begun - and sat down. Pema gathered a few stones and began telling their story - this one the mother, this one the father, this the baby, etc. I listened, burying my toes in the sand, then plucking them out. The sun was low.
We had been there just long enough to evaporate, to be nowhere and nothing in particular, when suddenly I heard a rumbling sound. No, I felt it. Looking over my shoulder, three elk crested over the wall of the canyon and stampeded down. They were right on top of us, but not close enough to trample us. The elk, all females, landed with powerful hoof-beats in the arroyo, then bolted up the other side, followed by half a dozen more. They must have been as surprised as we were.
Once they disappeared, Pema turned to me with trembling lips. “Were…were those…elk, Dada?”
“Yep,” I answered stiffly, “elk. No question.” She was three years old.
We stared at each other for a few seconds, then fell to laughing as the sound of their hoofs faded into the evening.