There never used to be so many moose in this area. Historically, they ranged all throughout the West. Then Europeans – or maybe Native Americans before them – living on the landscape drove them northward. Back in the 1970s, the good people at the USFWS reintroduced them to the area north of Fort Collins, in Walden. They’ve been rompin’ and reproducin’ ever since.
Many make it down here to our valley of Tungsten, Colorado these days, attracted by ten acres backed up to the National Forest. The valley is replete with willows, one of their foraging foods. In the edge seasons – springtime and autumn – we see them often.
This morning, I hadn’t planned on it – but Smudges saw him first.
A young bull. Gorgeous and chocolately brown, I have him at about 800 pounds or so. It’s hard to tell when I’m fleeing and screaming for my errant Shepherd mutt at the same time.
They always sneak up on us. We were out for our morning walk before I settled in for a writing day in the barn. Blending in with the darkness of denuded foliage that is the winter landscape, I can no more discern a moose leg from a willow branch.
Then whoop, there he is…and there my dearest, most intelligent, two-year old Shepherd mutt goes. Off to remind him that he’s on the wrong side of the creek.
I snatch up my one-year old Labrador mutt in an instant – he backs out of his harness and he’s as free to join Smudges as she is to pursue our wayward wild friend. The mindset of a Labrador is different – a little less intelligent, I would argue – and a heck of a lot more obedient.
It doesn’t hurt to have lamb lung treats in my pocket.
Charlie – Charlie, please come…NOW, I whisper, bending low and pleading.
He sits down smack in front of me. I wrap a lead around his beautiful, naked, sleek black neck, stuff his mouth full of lamb lung treats, and dash for our nearby pickup truck. Our elderly, incontinent, diapered Shepherd mutt, Sheba, joins in hasty retreat.
We bound through drifted snow on the east side of the barnyard. Smudges’ indignant barking trumps those melodious mating Chickadee calls I was enjoying just moments earlier. For a second, I glance back to glimpse the moose shaking his gawky, gorgeous head. The blonde fur on the back of his neck is standing on end. He runs full out – galloping like a mustang – ears pinned back like a mustang in pursuit of a charging wolf. He is gaining on Smudges’ tan tush, trying to snatch her already bent tail. They are fifty feet away, her lead is flying wildly behind, and I can no more run through hard-crusted drifted snow in our woodlands than I can get her to obey my calls in the moment. I think of the calm voice the dog trainer employed when pulling her back on her 5-foot lead in the basic training class. Instantly, I feel inherently mocked by some invisible, authoritative voice of judgment.
Tossing Charlie in the pickup, I return to the woodlands nearby to attempt to grab Smudges. But she and our wayward wild friend are in a dance – I was just trying to browse – Hey, YOU! – You’re in MY WOODLANDS! – that I can only witness from a distance.
So I do the next logical thing my spinning brain came come up with at the moment: Call my husband at work, some 20 miles away. I am desperate for human involvement, if only remotely. And, I want him to know why Charlie has been in the pickup for 6 hours, Sheba is wandering around loose on our land, and Smudges is nowhere to be found…
As I lie collapsed from the onset of a massive coronary due to the sudden traumatic stress of it all.
Or so the story goes in my swirling mind. Continuing to call & chase for Smudges to return now in auditory witness of my husband from a distance, I run down further into the woodlands to find she is now chasing our wayward wild friend across the creek. Right up towards the gravity line, where the City of Boulder workers have been repairing the pipeline for weeks now.
My heart falls. I feel sad for the young bull moose, so very trapped between the loud Teramax machine and my errant mutt. He turns and charges again and again, she barks and runs, he turns and charges, he charges then retreats in circles, she barks, he turns and runs in her direction.
The entire dance takes somewhere between eternity and infinity. I can do nothing to reach her ten-foot dragline to pull her away from the taunting and harassing of our 800-pound wayward wild friend.
I scream for her to come, anyway.
I look up to see an exhausted Shepherd mutt crossing the creek, returning in my direction. I welcome her as they say to do in dog training, employing my highest, least-agitated, affirming greeting. They never do tell you how to shelve your disappointment, frustration, anger and raw terror in the moment your dog fails to listen to your recall commands, much less screams of helplessness, in the presence of an 800-pound browsing moose.
I snatch up her lead and drag her back towards the pickup truck. Charlie is nestled in the back seat, curled up warmly in early springtime sunshine. Sheba putters back in her filthy, sopping-wet diaper back to the front porch. As for our wayward wild moose friend, I can’t precisely say where he ambled off to, though I’m fairly certain it will involve willows.