Marty’s photo of the day #4415: The following short excerpt is from my first book, Cool Creatures, Hot Planet: Exploring the Seven Continents:

Late Thursday, Deb and I had the privilege of being the first spotters of the largest elk on Earth. Okay, Deb spotted it without my help, and it probably wasn’t the world’s largest elk, but everything else in the previous sentence is true. We were driving fifty-five miles per hour along a section where the Icefields Parkway parallels the Athabasca River. A strip of forest was shielding the river from the highway with occasional gaps providing fleeting views of the water.

“Elk!” shouted Deb.

“Where?” I asked.

“Back there. I only caught a glimpse of him. I’m not even sure it was an elk—it could’ve been a deer.”

“There’s only one way to find out.” I eased us to a stop, U-turned, and headed north.

“I doubt we can spot him again. The gap between the trees was narrow.”

“There he is! Definitely an elk.” I U-turned again before parking.

The dogs launched into their adventure dance!

“Sorry girls,” said Deb, craning her neck to the back. “You two have to stay in the truck. Dad and I won’t be gone long.”

We shut the doors and started toward the river.

“Wait! Dad! Mom! You forgot the dogs!—Again! This isn’t fair. Wait! The Labrador Retriever Union isn’t gonna like this. Come back! Mommmmmmm!”

We picked our way through the trees and soon had a clear view of the elk. He was standing at the edge of the woods, on the opposite side of the Athabasca River.

“He’s huge!” I whispered. “Look at those massive antlers!”

If he wasn’t the biggest elk on Earth, he was darn close—and I thought only the moose in Canada took steroids.

I ducked behind a boulder and snuck to the river for some photos. The weather had only marginally improved since we left Stewart, and the dim misty day challenged my equipment. When I extended my zoom lens, the camera’s light meter blinked in protest.

What happened next made me rethink my literalist traveler assumption about the Canadian government erecting signs to warn me about possessed elk. Perhaps using a reflector for an eye actually meant the elk were psychic.

In the past, wild animals had acquiesced to my photographic efforts, but never before had one actually helped me with the process. The river was more than one hundred feet wide, and the elk was thirty feet beyond the water. When the big bull spotted me with my camera, I expected him to react like a normal elk and vanish into the forest. Instead, like a psychic, he seemed to know I wouldn’t harm him and only desired a quality photo. He walked to the edge of the river and posed for a head-on shot. After I captured the image, he turned sideways for a profile view. I pushed the shutter button again, then glanced over my shoulder to exchange grins with Deb.

The image stabilizer in my lens had stopped working earlier in the trip. As helpful as the elk had been, the malfunctioning equipment combined with the poor weather conditions meant we were still too far apart for anything but an average photo. With the river between us, closing the distance seemed unlikely. Then, as if he understood my predicament, the elk stepped into the river and waded toward me.

I continued pushing the shutter button as he approached. Once he reached mid-river, water began splashing against his chest. Suddenly his confident demeanor changed, his eyes grew wide, and he refused to take another step. Had I done something to upset him? Was the river too fast or too deep?

Deb touched my elbow. “We should go.”

“You’re right. We should back up to give the elk more room to cross.”

“No! We need to go. . . . Look.”

When Deb pointed toward the road, I understood her insistence. Numerous cars were lining the shoulder, and people were peering between the trees with their cameras.

Our special moment with the elk had ended, and now we needed to set an example for the others. The elk, who was neither possessed nor psychic, would stand in the frigid water, too frightened to move, until he had a clear path to safety. We hurried to the truck, shot the gawkers a look that said, “Follow us,” and sped off down the road.