|Object in this photo is closer than it appears…|
I first noticed her in the distance, blending in to the swampy foliage with her thick brown fur. She moved through the forest nearly silent, long legs fluid beneath her, as my dad and I crunched loudly through the mossy undergrowth. We stopped. Figured we’d stand, wait her out, as she crossed our path and weaved her way into the trees to disappear.
She didn’t. She stopped. She stared. Eek.
My dad had a gun on his hip, prepared in case we spooked a bear. He laid one hand across the butt, wrapped his fingers loosely. Prepared. The moose took several slow, leggy, steps in our direction. She was about twenty feet away, coming purposefully towards us. Starting to get nervous, we began to move cautiously back the way we’d come.
She followed our lead.
With every step we took, she followed. Her eyes never left ours, staring us down as if daring us to stay put, to give her a reason to attack. Her steps were sure, unwavering, confident. She knew exactly what she was doing.
The land we’d come to explore was a forty acre piece that started at least 1500 feet off the highway. We’d trudged along the property lines, searching out markers. Thick in some areas and sparsely treed in others, we’d run into her in a thick grove of underbrush … and she’d pushed us out into the open. I swear she knew she’d done it.
“Get to that stand of trees,” dad said, motioning towards a grouping of birch. We moved quickly across the field. She stayed with us, stomping her front feet towards as we went. “Yea, you better run,” she seemed to say.
We heeded her warning and weaved into a mix of small spruce with several thick birch towering overhead. She’d now closed the gap to about ten feet. We tucked ourselves behind two different trees and awaited her next move. From behind the false safety of the wide trunk, I was able to get a better look at her.
Her coat was thin from the harsh winter months, her eyes wide–with fear? I doubt it. Her sides heaved with each breath as she opened her mouth, huffed and grunted at us…issuing a final warning before she would charge. Dad’s hand still sat idly on the pistols handle.
“Draw your gun,” I said.
“I will, if I need to,” said dad.
“You need to,” I insisted, watching her nostrils flair. “At least get it out!”
Adrenaline began to pump. Okay, fine…I was scared near to panic.
She’d been pursuing us at least fifteen minutes by now and she looked no closer to backing down. The next stand of trees was a good fifty feet way. There would be no place to go from here.
“I’ll draw when I need to,” dad repeated. My dad is always calm…he is sleuth…he is calculated…he is meticulous. Oh, who am I kidding…he is slow!
“Dad,” I said now, really beginning to freak out, “I don’t remember you taking any quick-draw cowboy classes!”
Hearing the quiver in my voice, he drew the gun. The moose took another step towards him, decreasing the escape route to about six feet between the point of the gun and the thick, heavy breathing of the monstrous moose as she prepared to defend her ground.
He fired near her front feet. Dirt flew up from the ground a few feet from the moose. She jerked to the left, backed up a few feet and he fired again. She trotted off to her left and disappeared into the brush. I breathed again.
Perplexed by the aggressive behavior and trying to calm our nerves, we looked around the property we had been exploring when it all began. Continuing back towards the truck, about a thousand feet away, we were watchful as we made our way up a gradual hilltop.
Less than three minutes after the moose had run into the woods, we heard a crashing in the trees, the gun came from the holster a bit more quickly than before, and the same angry beast came straight at us. She had circled through the woods to approach us from the front and was running towards us at a dead heat.
I eyeballed the nearest tree, wondering how fast…or how slow…I could climb a three inch wide black spruce. If you’ve never seen an Alaskan swamp tree…picture the most pathetic looking squiggle of a scrawny, half-dead-looking tree…and that was my escape route.
Dad readied the gun and looked around but there was no cover this time. He yelled at the moose, “Get outta here,” and waved his arms. She stopped. Stomped her front feet, and stepped slowly in our direction.
“Move,” he said, keeping his firing hand ready.
And I did.
For another ten minutes we weaved speedily through the forest towards our truck. And so did she. With every turn to the right or left, she followed. Not behind but us…but next to us, paralleling our movements as if she were our reflection. Huffing, grunting and heavy breathing, her ears tucked back, her mouth open, she followed.
As we neared the truck the sound of the highway grew louder and she finally began to fall back. With the truck in site we moved our feet faster… like prisoners in those last few steps towards freedom.
As I put my hand on the truck handle, I glanced back. She was still there, pacing back and forth at the edge of the trees, huffing and stomping her feet…warning us not to return.