Empathy – It Rounds a Person Out

The other day I was getting a little exercise and happened on to this bull elk. It had not lost its horns yet. They usually lose their horns in March or April, when their testosterone is at a really low level; then they regrow them in the spring and summer months, just in time for the rut.

The rut typically begins in early September and runs into the first week of October or later. The early stages of the rut can be a wild time in the woods. Bull elk are often crazed, thinking only about breeding cows.

It’s horns were big, almost as though it was wearing an old hardwood rocking chair between its ears.  I counted the horn tips and there were 5 on one side and 6 on the other. 

Bull Elk Looking at me (lower middle right)

I had walked out onto a short trail that led to some cliffs which formed an overlook. As I stood there I noticed a couple of apple cores that had been left on some boulders around the overlook.

My first thought was, “Litter/” Then as I looked at them I realized they would become part of the earth, like the decaying leafs, twigs, and branches. Everything eventually ends up becoming part of the earth–even us, especially things like apple cores, so the idea of litter did not quite fit.  I thought to myself, “It would have been nice if they had thrown the cores off the trail into the scrub oak.”

Then I started looking around and enjoying the view. It did not take long before I noticed the elk was watching me. Elk are known for their crafty way of staying away for hunters, although this one was obviously tired, and operating in survival mode. I surmised that by looking at how thin and bony he looked. It was easy to see his ribs and hip bones. It looked like spring could not arrive soon enough for his liking.

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Around cities and towns, and even in other areas winter is a rough time of year for most animals.  In years gone by, they would come down into the lower valleys wear it was warmer, and to stay out of the deep snow and to find food. Our growth and habitation of the valleys has made it more challenging for them.

I often see deer down in the valleys, but I do not ever recall seeing an elk come down that low.    This elk was standing on a south facing slope, and the sun was shining down on him.  He looked tired, and later, after I had started hiking along the trail again, I watched him slowly lay down to enjoy the warmth of the afternoon sunshine.

As I stood there I remembered the apple cores and thought maybe they had been left for the elk?  I did not know if the elk would climb back up where I was, so I picked them up and tossed them down to the elk, thinking if he ate them, they might give it some much needed nutrition? 

Horses seem to love apples, but I was concerned I might scare him off. They both landed fairly close to him. I expected the elk to go over and eat them right away, but he looked like he was almost too tired to move–even though they were only a few feet from him.

I started to ponder the idea of returning with some “weed free” alfalfa hay to leave up there for him, and other elk who are wary of traveling down into the orchards, pastures, and neighborhoods.  In northern Utah, at the Hardware Ranch, they feed the elk that come down in the winter time. Maybe something like that is a good Idea?

Its ribs and bony hip bones stood out as though its fur was a cashmere sweater draped over a wooden saw horse

I’ve been pretty worn out, and hungry a few times myself, it made me wondered if an elk has any sense of being worn out? Or if it is just does what it has to, to survive, without wishing it was somewhere else, or feeling any self pity?  Then the word “empathy” popped into my mind. 

Most of us feel empathy for time to time, although I am guessing some people do not experience those kinds of feelings.   I would imagine being able to experience empathy would help us make good judgments. It is another EQ type skill, it gives us a broad sense of things going on around us.

I have heard the idea that a person has to experience things personally, or other things similar to empathy, to gain empathy for other people, animals, and other creatures; but I would bet there are people who do not have to experience it to understand it.

I believe people can be born with an intuitive sense about certain things including empathy.  I guess we all are born with certain skills and intuitions, and other times we must learn them.  That seems to be a cool thing about life; if we apply ourselves we can add lots of colors to our life’s experience.