A peaceful herbivore gone bad

You may know our friend Craig Comstock. He's the guy who painted the colorful microbial drawing on the mugs Jefferson Public Radio gives away during its fund drive. He's also the host of a weekly TV show, "Like Wow," cablecast on Channel 15 at 7:30 p.m. on Mondays. If that's not enough to make him famous, Craig's three siblings and mother all live in Ashland.

Even though 69-year-old Craig has no children of his own, he good-naturedly tolerates ours (even if he is a bit perplexed about our 4-year-old son's enthusiasm for using him as a jungle gym.)

Last week when we met for a chat at the Co-op, Craig told us the strangest story about a peaceful herbivore gone bad right here in Ashland. Here's Craig Comstock's story, in his words:

"My friend Manuel is such an adept global networker that, if he ever had to parachute over the capitol of Mongolia, he'd have a dinner invitation before landing next to a yurt. Apart from a cell phone, his personal electronics include a video camera.

"When he dropped in on Ashland from the Bay Area, we were invited to a birthday party held at the Elks Lodge. That evening Manuel's idea of a good time was to interview guests on camera about the real story of the guest of honor. He elicited the kind of mildly embarrassing tales that a best man is expected to tell at a wedding feast. At the end of the night he left the tape as his gift.

"It was clean fun.

"In that jolly company, I didn't expect to happen upon evidence of a ghastly assault.

"But then my attention was diverted to a large stuffed animal mounted on a platform at the edge of the room. It turned out to be an adult male elk, the totemic animal of the lodge. His name was Teddy.

"Not having grown up in a hunting lodge or Elizabethan country house, I was impressed by the taxidermist's art. Spotting a plaque, I expected to read a heartwarming tale about how the lodge cared for Teddy and grieved when he was finally entwinkled into elk paradise.

"In fact, Teddy was donated by the lodge to the city. Housed in what was then a zoo in Lithia Park, Teddy was among Ashland's attractions until he grew old. Our town hosts many elders, I among them, but Teddy was special; in his golden years he grew 'mean-spirited' and 'treacherous.'

"What to do? The city tried releasing him into the wild, but Teddy came back, perhaps for the free food, perhaps simply to be on stage in the zoo. In 1936, alas, despite being a vegetarian, he gored his keeper, inflicting fatal injuries on the man.

"Suddenly, the elk was not lovable Teddy any more. Refrigerated, the meat was served that year at four Elks feasts, thus fulfilling an ancient pattern of clan members eating the animal they identify with and call themselves after.

"The rest of the plaque was obscured by short pieces of hair, which were gradually falling off the remains of Teddy. Appearing on the Elks float in local parades, the beast became increasingly fragile.

"In addition to its charitable work in the city and good fellowship, the Elks rent out their lodge, at a good rate, for members' functions. Whether a birthday party, such as Manuel and I attended, a wedding feast or other celebration, these events still take place under the glass eyes of Teddy, gazing off to his right with antlers exalted."

There's a lesson in this tale for parents everywhere: Don't let your children play with elk.

is the co-author of "The Baby Bonding Book For Dads" (Willow Creek Press). Read more about the book at: babybondingbookfordads.blogspot.com.

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