Elk Migration, Jackson Hole, WY

No sound in this one, which is just as well because I struggle to make sense of what I’m seeing. The top half of the screen is covered in snow, the bottom has the new yellow-green and purple shade of new grass, and in between the two is a narrow band of shimmering mauve spots which must be the elk, although the shapes of their bodies are lost among the herd. When I hear the word ‘migration’, I think of moving with purpose, not this massive wandering. I can’t tell in what direction they move. Periodically a string of deer no bigger than a grain of rice walk to the right, disappearing off the edge of my screen, but those in the rear seem to be moving in the opposite direction; in the middle, they don’t move at all. A pair of horses graze in the foreground, apparently used to the confused animal gathering. Add to that the fact that the whole picture wiggles like a mirage; it can’t be from the heat as it’s late March and evidence of snow is still abundant. At times it feels like the entire herd will disappear and I’ll be left to realize that what I’ve been watching all along was the patchy muddy wintermelt of March in the foothills of a mountain range, the elk having long moved on to someplace else. And it would be appropriate. Part of closely looking at webcams, I’ve realized, is never being quite sure what you’re seeing and when it happened. I try to watch only ‘live’ cams showing me a now that’s somewhere else, but the park rangers and samaritans who run them tend to have a low technology threshold, and it’s not always clear if I’m seeing real time. Even more suspiciously is the fact that if there are animals in the frame, it’s usually a highlight reel, as most webcams show absence most of the time: abandoned nests that this time last year raised a clutch of hatchlings, vacant fields of blue ocean where the animals sometimes are, but rarely stay. A still and beastless frame is a more reliable indication of a ‘now’.