Posted in Extinction, Mammoths, Mastodons, Pleistocene

The Death of the Manis Mastodon

I imagine how the Mastodon in My Backyard died:

Near a small, bog-rich pond, the pearl-gray catkins of a pussy willow rattle in the driving sleet.  Ice coats the bare branches of a soopolallie growing at the water’s edge.  Frozen red berries still cling to its stems.  Upslope from the pond, in a brushy part of the tundra, a herd of elk seeks shelter from the spring squall.  Higher still, the mountains are sheathed in glacial ice.

The temperature drops and the sky clears.  When night falls curtains of light shimmer in the north, an aurora rippling in solar winds.  Oxygen atoms bombarded by geomagnetic storms turn the whole hemisphere red.  Glazed with the colors of fire, the pond flickers and burns throughout the night.

A muskrat surfaces and swims towards her burrow.  The legs of a frog dangle and twitch from her mouth.  The wake behind her broad tail sends ripples through the aurora’s reflection, shimmering the four-legged silhouette on the pond’s surface.  Looming over his own shadow, an old mastodon bull curls his trunk into his mouth and releases cold clear water down his throat.

All day, during the icy storm, the mastodon browsed on sage, spirea, rosehips, frosted buttercups, wormwood and sedge as the wind left ice crystals in his eyelashes.  He trudged across a marshland through sticky, hydrated clay, pulled out each foot with a loud, sucking sound.  Sunshine and snow, both opalescent, washed over him in waves.

On the tall-grass prairie, he saw herds of equus and pricus, horses and bison, standing with heads lowered, their backs to the stinging wind.  He saw a shaggy outline, obscured by blowing snow, sweeping the tall grass clear with her curled tusks.  Barely visible, a small calf nuzzled the fur between her front legs and suckled from a hidden breast.

Recognizing her high domed cranium and sloping profile, the mastodon did not cross the prairie to meet her, though he has seen her foraging at this place before.  She is a mammoth and not a member of his low-browed kind.

At a gravel bar he crossed a crystalline river formed from glacial outmelt.  A goose feather spiraled down from a migrating flock.  His pace was slow and he often stopped, his trunk resting on the ground.  An Arctic fox circled in behind him, veered away when he wheeled and held his huge tusks high.

Finally, in the middle of the night, he reached the pond and waded in.

Now he drinks and eats listlessly, pulls out hippuris, water plants with long tails and sweet green stems.  The sky is clear, cold, and the blood-red aurora flames and dances over his head, wildfire in the sky.  Cattails chatter in the wind.

He staggers toward the bank of the pond and into boggy mud, rich, black, and carnivorous.  He touches his side, where the hole-that-hurts still bleeds.  Mired, he closes his eyes, sways, falls.

Near dawn the two-legged hunters find him on his side, half in water, half out.  They build a fire and settle to their work.

Author:

Cheryl Merrill’s essays have been published in Fourth Genre, Pilgrimage, Brevity, Seems, South Loop Review, Ghoti, Alaska Quarterly Review, Adventum and Isotope. “Singing Like Yma Sumac” was selected for the Best of Brevity 2005 and Creative Nonfiction #27. It was also included in the anthology Short Takes: Model Essays for Composition, 10th Edition. Another essay, “Trunk,” was chosen for Special Mention in Pushcart 2008. She is currently working on a book about elephants: Larger than Life: Living in the Shadows of Elephants.

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