I was on my way home one evening at dusk from a Local Clay/Clay Fest meeting. It was out at Rhoda's, Flashpoint Pottery, in the wilds east of I-5 between Harrisburg and Brownsville, down a winding country road. Karen, the Clay Fest chair, and I were carpooling, almost back to the Interstate when I noticed a herd of large animals grazing in a field off to my right. Cows, probably. There's a lot of beef raised down on this end of the Willamette Valley, including a guy closer to Coburg with Texas Longhorns.

Look again, said Karen. I did a double-take.

It was a herd of elk.

I'd seen them before, even this close to the car. When I first came out to Oregon for grad school, I stopped to visit a college friend in the San Francisco bay area, then headed up the Coast Highway to Oregon. Somewhere between Muir Woods--which were incredible--and Grants Pass, there was a viewing area you could pull off, and, just on the other side of a rail fence, watch a herd of elk grazing in an open meadow.

But this felt different, somehow. The last time felt managed, safe. The fence, the coming attraction signs on the highway, a Park Service radio channel you could tune in for more elk facts. This, on the other hand, was a surprise: pale, huge figures looming out of the dusk, right along side the road. You don't expect to find Ice-Age megafauna a quarter mile from a major Interstate Highway.

I later found out this was a resident herd of Roosevelt Elk that ranges the central valley. Potter friends told how they'd find them on their front lawn all the time, eating windfall apples, over by Triangle Lake. Maybe so, but I've I've been down that road many times since, and never seen them again.

It was a magic moment.

I came back to that memory recently, when a long-time patron asked for elk painted on a stew mug set. I'd tried, unsuccessfully, before, but I've painted a lot of animals, developed some skill, since then. I did her mugs, also some dinner plates, pie plates, tall mugs, with a bull elk, in full bugle. I like how they turned out.

So have you herd? The elk are back!