Columns 2003

Moose never around when relatives are

Moose visit my yard every winter. They leave large piles of moose nugget jewelry all over my lawn as a present. They rip down limbs from my trees and annoy the heck out of my dog who feels he alone should be allowed to kill the dormant grass with his bodily fluids.

Walks and bike rides are that much more exciting because I never know when and where the moose will show up to make passage along my usual route impossible.  I sometimes think they are having a good joke at my expense by running from one block to the next so that no matter which route home I try, a moose is standing there smirking.

Of course, for getting the old blood pumping, there is nothing like accidentally startling a moose who is eating in the trees right off the road so that it starts to charge you.  I found out just how fast I could pedal uphill one day when that happened.

So my question is, where the hell are all these moose when my sister comes to visit?  I spend most of the year touting the natural beauty and wonder of this state to her to explain why I stay in a place with a nine-month winter.  I cut out all the newspaper pictures of moose taken over any given year as they trot through golf courses and make off with people’s Christmas lights wrapped in their racks and send them to her to show her why we are still the last frontier and how we’ve learned to live with wildlife right in our backyards.

But when she comes up for her annual visit, where are they?  Not in my yard.  Not in my neighborhood.  In fact, as far as I can tell, they take the occasion of her visit to leave the state for a brief tanning break in Hawaii.  And I look like a fool explaining to my sister how she has to be careful about moose when biking and walking.  Because as far as she can tell, there are no moose in Alaska. It is all a figment of my fevered imagination produced by the regular consumption of hay fever medication.

This year, we drove to Denali and Chena Hot Springs. I thought there would be no way we could do that whole drive, including time hiking in Denali, without her catching at least a glimpse of a moose.  I was very wrong. 

She did manage to see a duck while rafting but considering she lives across the street from a wild bird preserve marshland in New Jersey, she wasn’t all that impressed with the duck.  Or the goose and goslings crossing the road near my house.  She was more impressed with how many lectures she received about bears and how to avoid them than she was by any wildlife she actually viewed.  She was, in fact, so impressed with the lectures that she wouldn’t go walk on trails by herself.

All the way to and from Chena Hot Springs and Denali it rained and was foggy and cloudy.  I kept pointing off to the side of the road and explaining to her that were it not for the rain and fog, she would be seeing stunning, maybe even sweeping, vistas there. I pointed to where the clouds were thickest and described what Denali and Foraker would look like if she could see them.

And when, on the last day of driving, I spotted a young moose standing in a pond of water off the road, I made her get off the highway, turn the car around and go back to where the moose stood.  We got there as he disappeared languidly into the trees.  But she got a glimpse of his butt as we left.  She has proof that I am not hallucinating when I talk about the moose in Alaska. She knows now that they do exist.

I can only wonder what this moose did to get himself kicked off the plane bringing the rest of his buddies to Hawaii for their acation. But I glad he got left behind. 

Now that my sister left, all his pals will soon be back.  And taking my daily bike ride will again become an exciting game of finding the one path home not blocked by a maniacally laughing moose holding up a sign saying “Where’s your sister now?”