Elixir of Ornery Moose

October 2016

It’s rifle hunting season in the Colorado mountains.  We – that includes dogs – wear orange clothing and patrol our mountain property, hoping to protect our moose, deer, elk, and bear.  Two weeks ago, during moose archery and muzzle-loading seasons, our moose (he’s not ours, but I have a special interest in him) bedded down after dark in bushes close to the deck.  I could hear his moose noises, some of which sounded very much like the “moose-in-heat” throaty warbles I heard several years ago in the Tetons, at the same time of year.  (Here is the Teton moose with his family, cow and calf.)
The cabin moose left at day break. 

October 2015

I came upon this same moose for the first time at the end of 2015’s moose hunting season.  I took a longer-than-expected walk and was returning as twilight turned into something darker.  My weak headlamp shone only a little bit ahead.  As I began climbing the last hill, I saw a large blackness almost at the bottom, not far in front of me. “Bear – or moose,” I guessed.  A black hole of blackness. “Too big for bear”. 

The blackness was motionless; as my eyes adjusted, I saw that, yes indeed, it was moose.  And not a happy one.  Not happy with me because I continued to climb long after he smelled, heard, saw me coming and had stopped.  What effrontery on my part to invade his space.  How could he know my senses were not equal to his?  And especially unhappy because hunting season had just ended, too recently for him to know this.  Weeks of evading bow hunters, muzzle-loaders, and rifles had made him ornery indeed.

So as I finally got the message and stopped still, he began to move toward me.  This was a new experience for me. 

I have encountered moose over the years on our mountain property.  One bull in particular, I knew from his days as a coltish youth, slim and long-legged.
I would see a black presence, darkness slipping behind a tree, becoming invisible.  I would not approach, and he grew to understand my respectful deference.  One evening we walked, seeing a large shadow standing in the forest waiting.  We also stood quietly for some time, then watched him sink slowly to the ground for the night.

 Good Night, Moose

 Night shades fall
as darkest shadow
stops stock still…

 melts behind tree trunks
notes our approach halt
we three, human and wild, waiting and watching…

 He sinks slowly to the ground
evening bedding safely found

from Bright Moon Wandering, Environmental Love Poetry

I looked for this moose always, especially after the close of each hunting season.  Sometimes two years would go by before I saw him again, and the sight was always welcome.  The last time was five years ago, also in the fall.  We were hiking with dogs near the cabin, calling and making noise.  He approached from behind, on an almost-intersecting path.  I grabbed the dogs’ collars as we sat down. Their long collie noses circled in the air like sniffing search lights, as I tried to silence their howling.The moose continued to advance, stopping and watching for some time as we took pictures, which occupy a place of honor on my wall.  Eventually he continued on.  I never saw him again.  Sometimes I wonder if he was saying good-bye.

In any case, that is what I have grown to expect from moose.  Mutual respect and forbearance.  Not what I was getting at the moment. 

His Orneriness came toward me slowly, continuing as I backed down the hill.  I turned off the dirt path into the forest, hoping that would do the trick.  It didn’t.  He turned, too, following me into the trees.  I kneeled down, figuring there was nothing I could do to avert whatever was coming. From ten feet away the moose looked at me for several long seconds, displeasure registering on his face.  Then he began to climb.  I don’t know if I felt more relief or astonishment.  I wasn’t yet sure relief was the appropriate emotion.

As he climbed, he stamped and snorted.  He stamped and snorted all the way through the forest and up the hill.  This was quite extraordinary, since moose in my experience move silently through the woods.  He wanted me to understand clearly that he was very much annoyed!

In the “no relief yet” department, I heard him snorting and stomping as he circled back to the dirt road he had just descended.  I’m at the bottom, he’s at the top, snorting while looking down at me.  I thought, “Must we do this again?”

I began to sing, alternating my yoga chanting, which I know calms herds of buffalo one passes through, with the if-all-else-fails world’s most monotonic lullaby I invented for my son.  I sang for a long time without moving.  I didn’t see or hear him at the top of the hill.  It was quite dark, and I knew the family would be wondering where I was.  I had to climb this hill to get back.  So eventually I did.

At the top, I saw and heard nothing.  Evidently I had bored him enough for him to move along.  Back at the cabin, the dogs barked like crazy.  They had some hint of odd goings on.  My husband was oblivious.

February 2016

In winter that same season I saw this moose again.  Far away, climbing a different hill also on our property, he was in company with another bull.  He gave me a long look from the distance.  He seemed less inclined to be ornery now.

January 2018

The dirt path I have been describing is an old logging road.  Until the snows come, we can drive the car the mile into the cabin.  After that, we must ski.  On our last visit, I saw tracks in the snow – large moose tracks.  Moose are bigger than elk and generally travel alone.  Their legs are long and leave deep, far-apart imprints.  I saw smaller tracks and wondered if those could be elk.  Then I realized there might well be a calf.

And there they were, in sight of the cabin.  A cow moose with calf, leaving the road and heading up into the forest.  The cow kept us in sight as they climbed. Thinking about it, I realized this calf could be the one conceived two hunting seasons ago in the then still-leafed bushes next to the cabin.

I have more moose stories, also centered around the cabin.  This land has become a mountain sanctuary for deer, elk, moose, and bear.  A fox follows our tracks but usually stays out of sight.  I hope someday wolves will find sanctuary here.  I look out the window and hope.

This entry was posted in buffalo, Colorado, Grand Tetons, humor, moose, Nature, Poems, wolves and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Elixir of Ornery Moose

  1. beeblu says:

    I so enjoyed this piece, Monica. How amazing to be able to observe nature like this in your “back yard”, season after season.

    • Monica says:

      Thank you so much, Bluebee. This land gets wilder and wilder as the years progress. We are at the end of the old logging road, and no one has the right or even any reason to drive through. The animals understand that we will not hunt them and that they can take refuge here. Some years they congregate here during hunting season, and some years they leave during and return after the season is over. To have animals bedding down and mating next to our cabin, while we are there and in hunting season, is just extraordinary. We came up one time to see moose tracks and a bare area in the snow, where the moose had slept, on one side of the cabin. On the other side were dozens of elk tracks and bare sleeping places. We put up an infrared camera, so now we can see what goes on when we’re not there!

  2. beeblu says:

    In Sweden where my sister-in-law lives, there is a forest on their doorstep in which anyone is allowed to collect chanterelles, and anyone is allowed to hunt during the hunting season. Is it the same in your neck of the woods?

    • Monica says:

      Our land abuts the national forest, on which hunting with a state license is permitted.
      Most public land in the U.S. West is owned by the federal government (so it belongs to all Americans) and is managed by various federal agencies for differing purposes. Some land, like the national forests, is managed for multiple use, including hunting. Some, like the national parks (e.g. Yellowstone), is managed with preservation in mind; hunting is not permitted within national park boundaries. As you can imagine, all land use decisions are fraught with historical, political, almost religious overtones.

      In the U.S. the individual states issue licenses and set the schedule for fees, hunting times, type of animal, and kind of weapon, even on land owned by the U.S. government. In Colorado, for example, a state agency, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, manages state-owned public land and the animals on both state and federal land* with funds raised solely from the sale of hunting licenses. Does decision-making follow funding? Probably so: any conflict, real or perceived, between predator and primary game animals such as deer and elk will not result in a happy outcome for predators.

      It’s interesting to hear about Swedish practices. My son recently introduced me to chanterelles – what heaven.
      *(assuming no conflict with over-riding federal law, such as the Endangered Species Act)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s