The morning is quiet. Daybreak moves in quiescent rhythm with autumn’s gentle breeze. It is late August – the hummingbirds are dwindling. My husband is reducing the feeders from six to four. Fringes of yellow debut on this morning’s aspens. Even the field mice are actively gnawing orange threads off the pillow I left outside on our porch couch.
I feel a measure of relief with renewal. The energy of chaos simmers down with the passing of another Rocky Mountain summer. The stressful ills of urbanity driving tourists up the mountain fade away with concerns of a return to the more civilizing rituals of school and work. I breathe a bit slower, grateful to hear the morning’s Chickadees where guttural Jake brakes usually drown out their calls.
Despite the peace, this season has other things in mind for our morning. The leaving of human chaos invites in a far wilder one.
As with so many others, I never do see them standing there. Until the moment is upon me. The instance arrives. It is far too late for the conservative moves of cautious planning, preparation, or even, retreat. You’d think after twenty-six years of mountain living with all things wild that I’d have learned better. Still, the unpredictability of their appearance has lulled me into a dangerously deep sense of false safety.
There we were, returning from our neighboring property, all three rescue mutts and I, trotting along the willow-lined trail nestled between the only two properties in the valley. The youngest Shepherd mix dragging behind her thirty-foot lead, my safety rope for those just-in-case-she-doesn’t-heed-my-recall moments, leaping tall pasture grasses. She pounces on burrowing field mice fleeing escape from her paws. She smiles a wide, canine smile revealing her elation. For a moment, I join her in her reverie of a freedom mixed with love of her valley. Her Lab-Shar-pei brother, her companion and comfort soothing her days after her rescue from the mean streets of Texas, canters beside her. Her nemesis and rival for all positions alpha, our senior Shepherd mutt, ambles lazily behind. Age has slowed her gait, but Nature preserves her spirit. She, too, loves this valley as her own, after a long trip out of the sands of the Nevada desert.
I sip my morning latte, glancing up at the two Red-tail Hawks pirouetting mid-air. I step over a young Garter snake undulating across my path, breathing relief for him that he has escaped otherwise watchful eyes of our resident Red-tails for one more morning.
I stop to take in the moment. Just then, I turn back towards the aspens on the western edge of the valley.
It is only then that I see him, casually wandering out from the shade of the aspens, into the full-open pasture that we’re all standing in.
His sleek, chocolate brown, rippled body. Newly sprung antlers, angular, goofy face, staring at us as he walks slowly in our direction. He is a perceptible 6’ at the shoulders. I quickly calculate that he likely weighs eight hundred pounds.
Our new resident yearling moose. Another wandering male searching for new territory. He has chosen this valley to call his own.
I pounce on our youngest’s rope an instant too late. She has spotted him well before me. She bolts. I scream for her return. Her tan rear-end flashes, diminishing before my eyes. Soaring Red-tails mock the scene from above. Only our seasoned Lab-Shar-pei returns to my call. I take off in pursuit. Our senior alpha Shepherd mix trots back to the safety of home acres away. I sprint and scream as I leap over soil tunnels freshly created by pasture voles, catching high grasses on my legs. I fall and leap up quickly, tossing coffee and all hope for a good outcome to the ground. The last major encounter with an autumn moose left our Lab-Shar-pei trampled and more learned for all things hooved and wild. I have no chance to save anything so out of my grasp.
In the grips of wild chaos, only devotion persists. A sudden, raw reality floods into the moment like a torrent: You just may never see your dog alive, ever again. Blood rushes to my face. The edge of loss informs trauma. It is only through faith, an act of a miracle, or a return of canine devotion in equal measure, that one can ever expect their beloved dog to return safely, when in pursuit of an eight hundred pound moose.
I flee through the willows, beyond the creek edging the southern edge of our valley. Screaming frequently, time slows to an eternity. Loss looms at the edge as I behold vacant land in front of me. Our Shepherd mix has all but disappeared in hot pursuit of her exciting new intruder. I want to follow as fast as I can. I lack the one thing that can keep me going: Direction. They’ve taken off so fast, I can only pray they’ll flee south and not north, where the State Highway looms.
Ten minutes passes. And then: A miracle. Somewhere between my screams for my husband to retrieve the Subaru to enable continual pursuit by vehicle and her disappearance through the willows, she breaks through the aspens with the exuberance of a state champion. Bounding into the open pasture, the triumphant expression on her panting face tells all:
She’s successfully chased the moose back over to his side of the creek.
Having returned to report the tale, I resist the urge to admonish and instead deliver a congratulatory, Good dog!, for her willing return as I snatch the end of her water-soaked dragline. She has no idea the dangers she’s faced nor the trauma she’s inflicted. The valley by day belongs to our rescue mutts and the wildlife at night, but today I learned something new: Our yearling moose has other ideas for the land. It is seemingly for him a more mutually satisfactory arrangement. I now consider myself to be duly informed. At times like these, early autumn at 8,000 feet above sea level in the Rocky Mountains, the wild will reclaim the land. And it is up to me to heed the teachings with great humility, awareness and respect that the call of Nature demands…