The thick-knit woods near Colorado’s Guanella Pass loosened their cozy embrace, releasing the dogs and I to a meadow split by an ice-capped creek and face first into the crisp, Christmas-morning breeze. The dogs wandered a few paces ahead as I paused to re-bundle. Pulling on my mittens, I noticed a dark object on the opposite side of the creek about 50 yards away. My eyes battled the blistering breeze and emerging sunrise, and the single, obscure dark object soon morphed into two specific ones. “Oh, Christ,” I muttered, and not in the spirit of the season. “Moose.”
I watched for a few moments as the magnificent beasts browsed amid the shrubs and grasses that peeked through the snow. Then the strangeness of the sight occurred to me. Moose are generally solitary creatures, mating and calf-rearing excepted; yet here, grazing side by side, were two large males with antlers that could have held a wild-west saloon’s worth of Stetsons.
Perhaps the mountain snows had so narrowed their food supply as to tolerate each other’s presence. Maybe they were young sibling bulls who had lost or left their mother. Possibly…
My contemplation was cut short by my noticing that one of the moose had noticed me contemplating it. My previous close encounters with the largest member of the deer family flashed back.
On a spring hike through Beehive Basin in south-central Montana some years ago, Reese and I were charged by a cow, which I did not notice until it came blasting through the brush. Reese launched a feral barking fit, and I backed us through a dense stand of trees; the moose halted and turned. As I coaxed my heart back into my chest, we watched the moose trot to the thicket from whence it came, then reappear on the hill behind it with a calf in tow.
On an unsociable fall night just over a year later, my friend Patrick and I took a timeout from a Madden Football session to venture outside so Reese and Miles could relieve themselves. We lived in apartments (or “condos,” because this was in a ski resort town) at the terminus of a dead-end street bordered by forested open space; due to the hour, weather and my sobriety, all of which were unagreeable, I let the dogs roam free to do their business while Pat and I stood by shivering. Suddenly, there was a loud rustling punctuated by an angry grunt.
The moody clouds obscured the stars, and the night was black as tar; the sole illumination was the jaundiced glow that encircled the porch light 20 or so yards away. We could only hear the crescendoing commotion before us. Paralyzed in place, I felt a dog blow by at top speed. I swiveled and squinted into the light to see Miles making a beeline for the apartment.
Reese erupted with barks, diverting my attention to the more pressing matter of the female moose galloping toward us. Pat made a superhuman sprint toward the apartment; he literally ran out of his shoes. I took off behind him, turning to scream at Reese, who no longer needed the encouragement and passed me on the way to safety. The moose gave up the chase at the edge of the parking lot, did a 180 and vanished into the darkness. It was hours later, after a dose of liquid courage and armed with bear spray and flashlights, that we retrieved Pat’s shoes.
Needless to say, when we happened upon two large (even for moose) moose on this Christmas day, I felt a pang of panic. One moose remained attuned to my presence while I collected the canines by their leashes; neither the other moose nor the dogs noticed each other.
I led the dogs slowly back to the confines of the forest. The bulls returned to their business. Thank Christ. And merry Christmas.