The Rocky Mountain Elk survives severe winter conditions through perseverance. Generally large animals like elk are not affected by cold temperatures during winter. Rather it is the constant search for nutritious food that is their main challenge.
This bull elk is oblivious to the oncoming snow fury and remains focused on finding the arboreal lichens and tree foliage which break off when heavy snow loads slide off the tree canopies. When the snow depth becomes deep, it is far too taxing for elk to dig for their regular food supply of grass and low shrubs. The foliage and lichens that grow on the upper portions of older Douglas-fir trees are highly nutritious and are a favourite of elk. This “emergency food supply” remains out of reach to elk during normal snowfall winters but becomes life saving in severe winters.
By placing the elk to one side in this painting, I was able to create the space needed to give feeling to the force of winter coming at him. The snow is plastered to his horns and head by the wind but the fact the snow is not melting against his body is a sign he is well insulated and not loosing body heat – he is in prime health. Behind him, the group of Douglas-fir trees that he will depend on this winter are also plastered with snow on their windward side. Lichen still hangs from the branches but eventually it will be knocked off for this elk to find – and he knows it.