Training for a longer race that started in the dark, I wanted to practice running in the woods with a headlamp. Mist streamed across the bobbing cone of light as I entered the forest. It was just after five am, a clammy overcast morning in early October.
We had watched an episode of Stranger Things the night before. I tried to block out thoughts of levitating children as I descended the hill down to King Slough. Of course, blocking thought doesn’t really work, and as my shoes crunched along the gravel road I shifted to asking myself what a reasonable response to a ghost would be.
We first saw the elk in September. Our route to the Wilder forest passed the Yaquina Bay, and there, between the road and mudflats, was an antler rack we initially mistook for a willow tree.
Our neighbor said it was likely that hunters chased them out of the hills. That they were a smart herd.
We saw them again in October, this time eating pickleweed behind the Hatfield Marine Science Center. They lifted their heads and eyed us briefly. A couple nights later, on the same path, we nearly walked into the bull before he raised his head. For no tactical reason other than that it felt vaguely respectful, we pulled our headlamps off and waved them on the ground as we backed away.
Shortly after, Hatfield security hazed them off the grounds, and the herd reemerged in the field outside our place.