My husband Frank and I started off on an afternoon walk through the snow-filled woodlands in our mountain valley just above Boulder with our dogs. Just a few moments in, Linus stopped at my side, hair bristling on end. Sheba sniffed the air, nose high. Both of them know, moose will kill them in a hoofbeat. What they don’t know is why. (I can’t explain to them it’s because of a moose’s inability to distinguish them from a wild predator.)
Moose, I announced to Frank, blissfully unaware, grabbing his arm.
Through the pines, straight ahead, I motioned. I could see a tall, dark figure under the shadows.
I don’t see them, he whispered.
I saw her move a few steps. Then I saw the smaller ones at her side.
Oh, yes, now I see, he exclaimed, backing away. Linus – recalling viscerally what those weighty hooves felt like slamming down on his ribcage the early November day she trampled him – stopped by my side, whining, hair bristling on the back of his neck. There she was – and in reverse, off he went. Sheba beat him in a hasty retreat.
We made our way out of the woodlands into the clearing to the house, finishing our walk back to the trout pond. When we finally returned to our mile round trip valley stroll, the moose family was nowhere in sight. Packing up my basket of things, I was eager to head off to my barn writing office for some much needed, long awaited writing time. It was Inauguration Day for President Tweety — and the level of chaos, fear, anger, hatred, confusion and desperation was palpable. I could taste the toxicity in our soon-to-be-disappearing-upon-confirmation-of-the-new-anti-EPA-director-air.
I opened the door, excited. I stopped short when I saw the moose family just around the corner, steps from our house. There was mama browsing happily with her two calves, nibbling on shrubs just under the pines. Feet from the state highway.
It was a weekday evening rush hour. People were returning down Boulder Canyon from their time on the flats – Denver, Boulder – thinking about a glass of Malbec by the fire or chowing down on a pizza in front of the television. From the opposite direction, skiers were sailing down from Eldora, blissfully unaware of the dangers that lie ahead.
I had to do something. I felt desperate to save something in front of me, if only to counter my sense of powerlessness over other things completely out of my control. We can all help something. Sometimes, we have to look for it. Others, it appears right in front of you.
I knew, too, that no motorist could see the family shadowed under the pines.
I ran out the door, up the embankment some seventy feet from our home. I could see mama making her way up the ridge, edging ever closer to the highway. The calves stayed behind.
Feeling scared, anxious, concerned and sufficiently embarrassed, I didn’t know what to do: So I started waving my arms at traffic to slow down. Wildly gesticulating, I motioned to traffic speeding by, thanking slowing motorists for heeding my desperation and warnings.
What’s up? A young woman pulled over her Subaru, quizzically inquiring.
Moose – moose family ahead – on the roadside – I felt crazy for calling so much attention to it. Was I being overly dramatic or alarmist?
She nodded and drove off, and I repeated the warning a few other times to concerned motorists. People had run into at least three moose up here on Boulder Canyon and the Peak to Peak last year, all of whom died – the moose, that is.
Behind me, I could see mama and the calves, edging slowly up the mountain toward the state highway.
Yet they were still out of view.
Twenty or eighteen or thirty-nine minutes passed, I lost count.
Not everyone is paying attention these days to roadside activity. And certainly not the guy in the white pickup truck, ignoring my waving and gesticulating, who sped right past me, without benefit a brake light.
One hundred feet and three seconds later, mama stepped onto the asphalt. Right in front of his truck.
NO!!! She has calves!!! I screamed. As if any of that mattered to anyone in the moment. Her 1,000 pound wild chocolate brown body dashed across – all I could see were her legs and his brake lights – all I could hear were his screeching brakes.
She ran to the opposite side of the state highway. Traffic coming up from town slammed to a halt.
Then she crossed — right back — to the opposite side of the highway. Her calves had failed to join her and she, wildly protective and fiercely devoted, was not leaving them behind.
I walked back down the talus slope from the roadside into our valley. I watched as mama and her calves ran southward towards the creek. A bull emerged from the woodlands to join them. Together, they dashed across the creek, running back up the mountain ridge, on the other side.
I breathed a sigh and looked up in the sky, whispering a heartfelt thank you, for saving them in just that moment. We’re losing enough of what we love these days – peace of mind, beauty, harmony, a sense of safety in the world – the last thing I want to lose is the beautifully wild and dangerous moose family with whom we share our mountain valley.
We didn’t used to have moose in this area, until the reintroduction efforts back in the 70s, when 24 males and females were transplanted from Wyoming and Utah into the first reintroduction site in Routt National Forest near Colorado’s moose capital, Walden. Now, we now enjoy a healthy moose population up here — Colorado has a reported population of at least 1,000 — and thanks to my friend at CDOT, we also have a bit more signage to warn motorists that they should be expecting them, if they will simply pay attention. Particularly in the winter, when vegetation is sparse and mama has calves in tow – they are more in our presence than not. It used to be I could ski up to Mt. Baldy and catch a glimpse of them high up towards the Divide, but these days, they are closer to town, browsing on vegetation and making sweet moose love…