Sunday, March 1, 2009

Moose Caboose

I almost walked into the back of a moose yesterday. Ha! Ha!

I was walking home from work and I noticed moose tracks going this way and that way all around in the new snow. I hadn't seen moose tracks on that trail since my first walk to work. I thought to myself, I wonder if these are the same two moose that I saw down in town yesterday when I was walking to the library? They were in James' backyard hiding in the trees, standing very still and munching trees.

I looked here and there amongst the trees, wondering if perhaps they were still around and I could see them standing amongst the trunks. Moose are hard to see because they stand very still and they are the same color as everything else that is brown, but they are not shaped very much like tree trunks, so if you look for shape instead of color, you might just spot them.

Michelle drove me to a party out K-Beach on Wednesday and we passed moose grazing in the frozen wetlands. "I hate driving in winter at night," she said, "because of the moose. They come out of nowhere and you can't see them. Often people hit the babies because the mama crosses the road, and then just when you think nothing is following her, the baby runs across. And then after that, the twin will run across and the twin will get hit, because people really aren't expecting that.

"The way a car hits a moose, the bumper goes right into the legs, and it flips the moose over and onto the hood. It goes through the windshield and you basically get kicked to death. The moose doesn't usually die; it limps off with broken legs and then they have to go after it and shoot it.

"There's a list of people who get the meat. The next person on the list gets called when a moose is hit, and they have to come out, shoot it, clean it and everything, and they have to donate half the meat or something, but they get to keep the rest. There are rules about how far away from the road they can dispose of the remains and all that too. I just hope I never hit one."

At this time of year, the moose are pretty tame. They are morose and hungry. Once the mamas drop calves in spring, they get fierce, and a rutting bull in the fall is downright dangerous, but these days they just do a lot of munching and hunkering in the trees out of the wind. They walk into town where the roads are plowed - even with their long legs it gets pretty tiring to manage the deep snow. James says that in his childhood when they regularly got significantly more snow than we have this year, there were way more moose in town than there are now. Maybe they find a warm dryer vent to frequent, and certan moose get reputations as bothersome loiterers.

This morning at the Eagle Lodge where Tracy took me for breakfast, an old lady was tattling on a know-it-all neighbor who told them not to feed the moose.

"This nice lady moose wandered into our backyard and she was so sad, so we fed her and she started hanging around. But you know she had lots of relatives that she invited along and pretty soon I wondered if we were in the restaurant business or what. The neighbor came by and said not to feed the moose, and I said, 'I don't. I feed the birds.' Heh. But then we got neighbors next door. Kids, you know. We had to stop then."

Tracy asked, "How long did it take after you stopped feeding her before she stopped hanging around?"

"Well, she stayed around for a while, and then one year she didn't show up anymore. I don't know what happened to her."

"She probably ended up in someone's freezer."

"Eh, it's Alaska."

So, back to the story: I was peering into the trees on either side of the path and I thought I saw the bumpy silhouette of a moose sitting down in the snow about thirty feet off the trail. I wasn't sure, because I couldn't see her head, so I wanted to take a better look. I found a set of moose tracks pointed that direction diverging from the trail, so I decided to follow them. The snow was a lot deeper than it looked. I suddenly realized the severe advantage moose legs give them in the winter drifts. I tried to follow directly in the footprints left for me, but this required an awkward hop up and out of the snow and I missed a lot of them. After a few yards the footsteps turned in a different direction than where I'd seen the moose, but from there I could look and see the distinct shape of its head and my curiosity was satisfied. The trail I followed must take a sharp turn and lead to her, but who accuses of a moose of not walking in a direct line? Where's it going anyway but where it wants? Except for the fact that it is starving and must live in the cold, I kind of like the idea of aimless wandering. A moose would make a good minstrel. If it could sing.

I turned around and hop-shuffled back through the snow to the path and continued towards home. As I turned to take one last look at the moose in the trees (I was rather proud of myself for spotting it from so far away), I suddenly saw the bulk of another moose lying down in the snow much, much closer to me. The footsteps I'd found did not lead to that other moose at all; in fact, if I'd followed them about ten feet further, I would have found myself struck smack into the backside of a big ole' moose. And I had just finished congratulating myself on my powers of observation....

The moose moved not at all. Neither moose had twitched so much as an ear in all the time that I'd watched them. I guess they figured someone as bumbly and noisy as me couldn't possibly pose a threat to them. Lucky for them I'm not a hungry wolf pack. Lucky for me they aren't a hungry wolf pack.

Yup, I live in Alaska. Yup, there are lots of moose.