The magic is tenuous, suspended in the air between, as the majestic elk look you in the eye and blink. They are regarding you, as you are regarding them, and the frozen tundra, tingling of bells, prancing, dressed out horses and billowing puff clouds appearing and disappearing with each snorting breath, all add to the Currier & Ives picture that is being painted before your eyes.
But you are not in a painting, you are on a sleigh ride in Idaho.
Scott Points said he and his family are continuing a tradition that began with his grandfather and grandmother, Hap and Florence Points. Scott and his family currently run the Points Ranch near Donnelly — and, for about four to six months a year, when the snow flies in the winter, they hook up several teams of horses and take visitors on elk-feeding sleigh rides.
"There is a long history," Scott said.
The ranch was one of two in Idaho to be named a century farm in 1989 and as such has been sharing winters with elk herds for about 130 years.
"We've been a part of each other's life for a lot of years," Scott said. "The tradition and the history is real important to us."
Up until Scott was in high school, the family mostly kept the elk to themselves. But then, people heard about how they came every year and visited the Points Ranch. "They asked if they could ride out and see the elk. I'm 45 now so it's been about 30 years that we've been formally taking people."
Scott said it's the snow that brings the elk and the sleigh ride season doesn't start until that happens.
"I've got people booked right now," said Jessica Points, Scott's wife. "We normally start (the sleigh rides) the week after Christmas. But it depends on the snow and when the elk start coming down."
Even though they've never missed a year that Scott can remember, the family hold their breath every season.
"It's not like a guaranteed thing, but then — it's a big relief when you finally see them."
Scott said the elk seem to feel safe at the Points Ranch.
"They are very fearful of people, as they are heavily hunted — by people with guns and by wolves. ... They've adapted to it and are accustomed to it, it seems to be unique to the property," he said. "It all kind of comes together so people can see them."
The elk get well taken care of while they are wintering with the Points. "We feed them hay and different kinds of forage — grass hay, clover, alfalfa."
Scott said that growing up, feeding the elk was just one of the daily chores, and yet ... "many times as a family we would hang out with them for awhile and just enjoy them. There's a lot of people that come every year now to do just that — to hang out with them."
Although it varies, about 100 or more elk come to the Points' property every year, Scott said.
"It sounds ... it's all really magical," he said. "Even if you've been before, you can come and have a different experience; each ride is completely different.
"One of the things I enjoy about the elk — there's a completely different energy. A good feeling abounds.
"Every year they come, it's like seeing old friends. It's kind of eternally magical to me."