One crisp fall morning about a dozen years ago, I spotted an adult female moose some hundred feet from the house. Steaming cup of tea in hand, I scuffled into house slippers and stepped outside to have a closer look. Though we lived in the Maine woods, a moose or bear sighting was rare, and I wasn’t about to miss it. Walking with purpose and taking slow measured breaths to lower my heart rate, I came within twenty feet of her before halting. She herself never budged until, suddenly cognizant of her massive size, I began to prickle with fear.
I don’t know what I intended to do once we met, except that I was compelled to the encounter. I have always been magnetized to the sheer wonder and beauty of animals in the wild. In fact this photo shows me at three years of age, reaching out to pet a deer in Yosemite National Park. I can still recall my father’s firm hand – trying, I suppose, to minimize danger.
In almost sixty years of living on this earth, nature has failed to render me harm. But I also humbly respect her majesty, power and unpredictability. I have swum with sharks and giant mantas, moved swiftly through birches and maples hoping to catch up to a young black bear who easily outran me. I have strolled amidst prairie rattlers and tarantulas and ducked into bat-infested caves. And it’s not that I yearned to bring these animals into my world – far from it. The thought of capturing and/or taming the truly wild still provokes in me an incomprehensible sadness. I only wished to bask a moment in the presence of something indigenous – an undomesticated life whose spirit had not yet been broken by the ever encroaching sprawl of civilization.
Still in the company of this amazing creature, I felt at once vulnerable and small. A wave of something akin to panic began surging downward to my feet like an electric shock, and with this rush of fear came an instantaneous reaction from the moose. The look in her eye sparked alert as her body began to bunch, preparing no doubt for the challenge that seemingly besieged her. I hastily thanked her out loud for the meeting and begged her leave. Turned my back. Felt my legs tremble. Sensed her pursuit.
In the end, she paused, shortened her stride, let me go. Meanwhile I beat a hasty retreat to the homestead, gathered my wits and went to sit in front of a window and contemplate what had just transpired. Moments later I heard leaves rustle, observed her passing outside right under my nose, moved inside from pane to pane as she traversed the circumference of the house, thrilled at her circling all the buildings, rounding the boundaries of our dwelling once again. About a week later a young bull moose appeared and repeated the same behavior.
It was to be the last encounter of its kind before I left the state of Maine for the islands of Hawaii.
Coincidentally as I was a radio host at the time, I interviewed a Mi’kmaq Indian, Evan Pritchard, author of No Word for Time. He informed me that Micmac, the more accepted spelling of that tribal name, means Moose People. The Moose People learned to hunt by observing moose behavior. Like the moose, they would encircle the object of interest, eventually closing in for the capture. When I related my moose experience, Evan told me how young braves would count coup by approaching a live moose and tagging its body. I realized how easily that could have been accomplished, had I better mastered my fear.