She screeched her Land Rover to a halt. I shot a glance to my left. He was just ten feet away. The young bachelor moose recently emancipated from his mother stood warily watching me on the centerline. The young motorist sat patiently smiling and waving her acknowledgment. It was rush hour on Boulder Canyon, the state highway on which I live with my husband. Our valley sits just below Barker Dam.
We get to see an abundance of wildlife here.
I’ve often wondered if I was born to live along a state highway, helping animals in peril cross to safe terrain, or if living along a state highway inspired me to care about them. Obviously, a chicken and egg / cause and effect quandary. And yet, none of it matters when you’re staring into the eyes of a grateful, yet massive and potentially dangerous wild ungulate.
Besides which, I was desperate to help him cross. Last year, a young bachelor moose similarly situated died on Boulder Canyon after wandering out onto the same spot on the highway. (I was out of town at the time.) It is a particularly hazardous stretch of road for animals – the descent lending itself to speeding around the gentle turn at Barker Dam and sailing down onto the one-mile straightaway behind our valley. And it just happens that the gulch where elk, deer, moose, coyote, fox and other animals cross Boulder Canyon is in the midst of that stretch. Every time I see a herd of elk or a lone moose, I have to calculate the risk of interfering against unintentionally alarming them into motion into further danger.
Some days, I feel a need for one of those orange safety vests, like the ones the elementary school teachers used to wear. Or maybe a crossing guard sign to hold high above my head, like they used to hold high above an 8-year old’s head upon crossing an intersection.
On this particular Wednesday afternoon, I had ample time to facilitate a safe passage. Ever since I watched him from my barn office browsing in the valley, my previously alarmed dogs were now tucked safely in the house. (He wasn’t even remotely alarmed, when upon surprising us, one of my dogs barked excitedly as he ran backwards alongside me, right to the front door.) I watched him ambling along, nimble snout grabbing young leafy shoots on the bushes below the state highway, munching and sniffing. It was a joyously peaceful hour of writing and glimpsing over to see him existing blissfully in our valley. Until the moment, he wandered closer to the mountainside. I knew his mind was on ascending farther upwards towards the road.
Walking briskly out of our barn, I took cover behind the house and ran up the mountainside some distance away. I was determined to watch him from above. I needed time to warn traffic. As it happened, he was planning on crossing just below the turnoff for our driveway — right in front of the moose sign my friends at CDOT had erected at my request a few years it. Since then, I’ve wondered — do signs ever make a difference or do people become habituated to them?
I watched from behind a Ponderosa Pine for a long while, long enough for my sweet husband to come home from Boulder to find his wife standing along a busy state highway at rush hour. Pulling off, he looked over at me – I anticipated the question – one of our early dates saw me jumping out of his Z-4 to save a prairie dog from death along Arapahoe Avenue – so I spared him the confusion, and simply motioned in the bachelor moose’s direction.
Ah, okay, he got it immediately, and then proceeded to park the car at the top of our driveway. I watched as he took cover behind a Ponderosa Pine close by.
Have you tried to call for help? He asked the obvious.
Yep, it’s just us. Nederland Police are all occupied.
And so, we waited. And watched. From a safe enough distance, where an 800-pound wild ungulate is concerned.
Every time my bachelor moose friend ambled up to the state highway, placing a hoof on the pavement, I ran out onto the asphalt several feet up-highway from him, waving and alerting traffic. They could no more see him in the shadows of the pines to stop in time at 50-miles-per-hour, than I could toss a bridle over his angular head, jump on his back and ride him away to safety.
But he was skittish. And slow. And each time he approached the state highway, he stepped back, returning to the Ponderosa Pines along the roadside – until he thought to try again.
It went on like this, for about an hour. Me watching, him browsing, hubby standing vigil over the both of us. Rush hour motorists driving by, unaware of the young bachelor moose in the shadows of the pines.
And then, he made another move. Now I had ample time to caution a driver in the Subaru coming down the perilous stretch. I stood on the centerline, waving my hands until I was certain he could see me. In that instant, I longed for that orange vest. Fortunately, traffic halted from the opposite direction. (Except for the Audi driver, that is. That guy – well, he drove around the line of stopped cars, nearly hitting my young bachelor moose friend.) As soon as the Audi driver swerved, my young bachelor moose friend ran back into the Ponderosa Pines, once again. Silently, I wished my friend would’ve kicked the side panel on that shiny black car. Silently – I’d like to say but honesty prohibits me from doing so – I cursed the Audi driver. Do they market to type-A’s, or does driving an Audi make them type-A’s?
And then, we ran back with him.
He continued browsing, for just a little while longer. And so, we waited along with him. And, we waited…
Until fifteen or so minutes later, he made one more attempt to cross. This time, I thought – this time he just might make it across. This time, he just might even trot.
But no, he didn’t trot across Boulder Canyon. Instead, he ambled. Ever. So. Slowly. Across. The. Pavement. The woman in the Land Rover stood waiting patiently, traffic stopped from the upcoming Boulder direction, all paused. They were all watching as I stood on the centerline between them, my young bachelor moose friend – motorists laughing and smiling, delighting in the joy of glimpsing this chocolate brown bundle of bumbling and ambling across Boulder Canyon lazily on an April Wednesday afternoon – and me, dancing away warily just ten feet away to see him to safety.
We all held pause, as he ambled over to the opposite side of Boulder Canyon and ascended up the ridge, where my husband and I watched him walking up the grassy mountainside opposite the east end of our valley. I resisted the urge to run up, give him a little smack on the behind and encouragingly shout, ‘Giddy up! Instead, we just watched as he browsed on fresh green shoots.
We were left to leaving it all up to trust and faith, that in this particular young bachelor moose’s mind, at least for this springtime Wednesday afternoon, he would be safe. I’m left with the obvious question — Did he really need my help, or was it me who was needing to see him across to safety? It’s impossible to know. And given he’s an 800-pound young bachelor moose, I just may indeed never know.