The island was lovely at this time of year. The ice and snow had been receding, and in their place the growth of fresh grasses and arctic lilies signaled the start of the new season for those who lived there.
Their calls echoed across the landscape like thunder, and their songs rang true in the vibrations of the earth. For this land was one that they, and countless of their kind before them had shaped. Where they walked, life followed. Where they fed, the land was lush.
The old matriarch reflected on this and was content. She had led her clan for many seasons, bore many calves, and saw her family through countless hardships. In her life she had seen famine, drought, and cold so intense it had penetrated even her thick, shaggy hide. Yet she and her clan survived each trial put in their path.
As she contemplated all this, she became somber. For the winter had been especially cruel this year, and had left her and many of her clan weak. In her old age she had been hit the hardest by the lack of food and relentless weather. She knew that this winter had been her last. Her family would no longer have her to guide them through the seasons to come.
That morning as she walked toward the beach, the crashing of the waves and the calls of the gulls comforted her. She had been born on this very shore, and spent many summers here with her own calves. A pack of wolves howling in the distance, however, brought about much less pleasant memories. She remembered her very first calf, and the bitter regret and sadness of being unable to protect it from the wolves’ savage hunger. The clan had been fewer back then, and that had made the pack bolder in their attacks. All they had needed was her moment’s hesitation. She walked further away from the haunting howls.
As the sun rose higher in the sky, her wandering took her to a spot she knew well. A large, ancient rock carved and worn by the elements that stood proudly in the center of a vast field. This was the place where many bulls had fought in the spring to win the affections of she and her sisters. Their low, challenging rumbles roared like thunder, and the crashing of tusks split the air like lightning. Only the strongest male won her favor, and the cycle continued season after season. Males would compete intensely for the right to breed and pass on their genes to ensure the next generation was strong and healthy. Even after the mating season bulls fought amongst each other constantly for dominance within their bands.
The old matriarch knew all too well how differently the males and females governed themselves. When she was very young, a dominant bull almost trampled her to death while trying to win over her aunts. Luckily for her the clan had banded together to drive off the aggressor in an effort to protect her. That was the day she learned that her family would do anything to keep her safe. As she got older she was able to do the same in turn for the young of her sisters.
The sun was now at its highest point in the sky. While walking across the open grassland, memories came flooding back to her of many families coming together in this place during the warmer seasons. Cousins would reunite and calves would meet others of their age and play together. It was a joyous time of reunion and bountiful food. However, when the old matriarch looked across the plain now, she saw only grass. Where there had once been the happy calls of her own kind, now only the wind could be heard.
Dusk was approaching as she began making her way down an ancient trail. The grass had been laid flat by the footsteps of countless generations before her. As she walked their footsteps the old matriarch could feel the presence of her ancestors, and all of the matriarchs before her. She remembered her sister before her, and how she had kept their family together during the great drought. She remembered her grandmother, who had led the clan when she and her sisters were only calves, and still relied on their mother’s milk for nourishment.
The old matriarch looked around as the sun began to sink below the horizon. She had reached the end of the trail. She now stood on top of a large, flat hill. In the fading light, patches of white reflecting around her. By now all the snow of winter had melted away. These white shapes around her were bones. She had reached the final resting place of her kind, and soon would join them in their eternal slumber.
The old matriarch moved toward a particular collection of bones toward the edge of the hill. These were the bones of those in her family who came before her. Some bones were yellow and cracked and battered by years of exposure. Some bones were fresh enough to still have remnants of hair on them. She ran her trunk over the skull of her sister and felt herself becoming weaker. The old matriarch knew her time was coming to an end.
With great effort, she lay down next to the bones of her kin. As she lay there, she could feel herself slowly slipping away. Now, her oldest daughter would become matriarch and lead their beloved family into an uncertain future. She began to draw her final, ragged breaths. As long as her family stayed together and remained strong, surely they would survive.
This thought comforted the old matriarch. For as long as they had each other to rely on, the age of the mammoths would last forever.