Elk hunting is still alive and well among those mythical, yet real, people of the American southwest, the Jicarilla Apache.
There, in New Mexico, those regal prey, the bull elks (no calves, thank you), still walk in abundance with their harems, walk slowly, carefully, attentively, for the fear of the stealthy Apache has been ingrained into their tiny brains.
After about ten thousand years of surprise attacks by these amber people of the desert red, these bulls know an Apache is something lethal, something to run from, even if they are smaller. They, the Apaches, say the crow will tell the elk when man is near if he does not leave the crow some food. They know; all animals know.
The Apaches, as so many other ancient people, were shown how to hunt elk successfully, what dances had to be performed, what gestures had to be made, what prayers had to be said, by two spirits, by Killer of the Enemy and Child of the Water.
They must have taught them elk hunting well: the Jicarilla Apaches are still alive and well, hunting elk in New Mexico. Killer of the Enemy and Child of the Water have not fared as well. Most say the spirits have disappeared.
Today, even the Jicarilla have forgotten the actual dances, the requisite worship for good luck in elk hunting that these two spirits taught the Apache’s ancestors after they had immigrated from a distant world across the water.
Generations of European influence and Christian teaching have put these two spirits out of the Apache’s contemporary memory. In a world where science reigns, no people will still hold to these shadows of the past. Many have even become ashamed to have believed such fables, and contemporary memory will not acknowledge such things as spirits and gods.
Most of the Jicarilla do not remember the elk hunting ceremonies their ancestors once practiced to bring that sweet elk meat to their tongues, food to forward the Jicarilla into the future, into the present, so that they could forget the spirits and have the knowledge of modern man.
Today, casinos provide for their sustenance, at least for many of them, not elk hunting. But there are still some who hunt the elk of the ponderosa, of the mesas and flats. They will track the bulls for you as their ancestors did in ancient days. These trackers will be the first to deny the spirits taught them anything, and yet…
Go with one of these Apache trackers on the hunt, watch one move like liquid through pine forests, over the fields of sage, past tumbleweeds, watch as their eyes meditate on the ground before them, on the ragehorn hoofprints impressed on the red clay.
Just as the elk fear man after so long a history with them, you will wonder, have these Apaches, even with the spirits lost in the darkness, have they had ingrained in their large brains, through thousands of years of elk hunting, what Killer of the Enemy and Child of the Water originally taught them when they were young and fresh?
Do these spirits still operate in these trackers today? The Apache may not affirm this, but the elk sure act like Killer of the Enemy and Child of the Water are still in the air. Perhaps they are.