Friday, September 17, 2010

Bugle boy

"I tip a wapiti" is a perfect palindrome, and the core of a much longer one I've lost track of. (A palindrome is a large arena full of one-humped camels, or Alaskan ex-governors or something.) Though I have no desire to tip one of these magnificent creatures (after all, the service is terrible!), I wouldn't mind if one of them would tip me, or at least blow his bugle for me.

On our recent driving trip through the Rocky Mountains, the bad faerie rubber-stamped us, and all sorts of stuff went wrong. Nobody died, nothing like that, but still, it was stuff. A long-anticipated visit to a world-class dinosaur museum in Drumheller, Alberta, was aborted by a sign that read, "Closed on Mondays." (Mondays? . . . Mondays???)

A long construction detour stuck us in six-inch mud ruts and coated our vehicle in thick brown slime. "Falling-off-the-bone" ribs from a promising roadside restaurant had the taste and consistency of shoe leather, and the accompanying chicken breast had been precooked, frozen, doused with bottled barbecue sauce, then shoved in the microwave for 20 minutes. (Someone should write a book about disappointing restaurant meals: the prickly, angry sense of being ripped off, the powerlessness of not being able to fix it, the sensory anticipation raised and then dashed, the dismay and even shame at trusting that this place would live up to its promise. Not to mention good old-fashioned visceral disgust at being faced with inedible glop, or - worse - stuff that's edible, but only just.)

Nevertheless, there were moments, Rocky Mountain rainbows glimpsed: and I have always loved rainbows, I admit it. In Banff, we sighted some undersized male elk by the side of the road: like fat deer with bigger horns. Knowing they were out of the running, they sparred half-heartedly for the tourists. But magic lay in wait. After a too-big dinner in the enchanted town of Jasper, we were driving back to our chalet (OK, it was a fourplex, but still very cozy), and saw cars backed up and pulled over.

"Shit," Bill said. "More construction."

But it wasn't. Breathless travellers had their telephotos trained on a huge bull wapiti, with a rack on him like I'd never seen before. He made a show of wariness, his monarch head jerking up from time to time to interrupt his grazing. But there was no doubt that he owned the patch of ground he stood on.

Then he tipped back his wapiti head, opened his mouth and broadcast an unearthly - what was it? A goblin playing an oboe? The smell of rushing wild streams and fresh-cut cedar rendered into sound? A squealing upsurge of harmonics the colour of the aurora, designed to grasp and pull the ovaries of bawling elk-virgins?

Whatever it was, whale-squeal or loon-shiver, his primal music made my hair stand on end. When Mr. Elk casually sauntered across the highway, stopping once to bugle again, we were rapt, rooted, transfixed, and swearing a blue streak because we hadn't bothered to bring the camera to dinner. (Nothing good would ever happen on this trip, would it?) So, no video, no majestic stills, nothing. This would have to be the one that got away.

How does a mere ungulate (how I love the word!) produce such virtuosic woodwind arpeggios? It takes Tibetan monks 50 years to learn how to chant in overtones. And here this big ol' fur rug on hooves is doing it with no study at all. It's artless art. If Felix Mendelssohn breathed into a glass clarinet in a state of total weightlessness, it still wouldn't come close: wouldn't auger the soul in the same excruciatingly lovely way.


i tipa


a tika tipa tika







tip -

. . . ahhh.


  1. Pure poetry. This: The smell of rushing wild streams and fresh-cut cedar rendered into sound? A squealing upsurge of harmonics the colour of the aurora, designed to grasp and pull the ovaries of bawling elk-virgins? And the rest. Glad you didn't bring camera. Made you work.

  2. I can't really capture that sound, mystical, but that's too cliche. When I look at all these critters who have evolved in such strange and wonderful ways, I think, how great thou art, thou whateveritis that brought this about.