It began like an earthquake. The cabin was vibrating, at first just slightly, then more and more urgently. I felt it through the soles of my feet, coming up in waves through the plywood floor. What the …? All three dogs were accounted for, lying in the cabin. Was there an animal hopping around on the porch? Maybe a bear. There was a strange rhythm to the vibrations, even a dull sound that was getting louder.
Just as I turned to open the door and find out what on earth was going on out there, a moose ran right by the window, peeling past the cabin with only inches to spare. Her calf raced along behind her, skinny legs pumping hard, ears folded back, and followed her down the path to the water. The thundering of hooves diminished as the moose disappeared down the trail, fireweed and soapberries closing behind them like a curtain.
With my heart still thudding in the rhythm of the running moose, I yelled at the barking dogs to be quiet, and waited for something to come chasing by the window next. But nothing happened. All was quiet.
I took the bear spray and went out to investigate. Why would a cow choose to run right for our cabin, with plenty of open space and a variety of trails all around? She must have been running from something. In the dusty trail that snakes out of the woods down to our house were the forceful prints of the two moose, drawn long where they had run down the hill. Intrigued, I followed the tracks. No wonder the cabin had picked up the vibrations – they had been running for a while already, at least 200 metres. I scouted around for other tracks, but there were only the old paw prints of the dogs and the craggy pattern of my boot soles.
Where the trail branched out and became more rocky, it was harder to see where the moose had come from. I returned to the cabin to get the dogs. Sniffing excitedly, their tails tall in the air, they showed me where the moose had emerged from the open forest and veered onto our trail. In the limp grass, already turned to straw in the unrelenting dry summer heat, I found the tracks again. Fireweed lay with its pale leaf sides up, tiny ridges of soil pushed up where the tip of the hooves had dug into the ground under the force of the animals’ speed. The moose had come in a fairly straight line out of the woods, and then made right for our cabin instead of taking any number of different routes.
How strange. It’s not like the cabin is a deterrent to moose – quite the contrary. The surrounding willows and saskatoon bushes get their yearly pruning attended to by a small army of ungulate gardeners, but the moose usually don’t wander past or stop to eat during broad daylight. I’m sure they know our schedule perfectly well and time their commute so as to face the smallest possible chance of people and dog traffic around our cabin.
But to come running right for the cabin during the day? I searched the ground minutely for bear signs or wolf tracks but came up with nothing. The dogs didn’t show any of the tension that would indicate a bear and when Milan peed, he didn’t mark with his hind paws as he would if there were wolves around. Something must have spooked the moose, though.
Eventually, I gave up the search. There were bears around of course, feeding on soapberries now. Just a couple days earlier, when I was sitting on the outhouse, I had heard a telltale crash and some artificial fibre rip. While I finished up the task at hand, I slammed the squeaky outhouse door repeatedly to shoo away the ripper and crasher out there. When I investigated where the sound had come from, I found the tarp covering our snowmobile ripped but no further damage. Three little holes, all quite closely together, told the tale of a small and curious bear.
But surely the moose wouldn’t run from a three-year old bear. Whatever caused the cow and calf to come right for our cabin will remain a mystery. I’d like to think that the cow used the house as a predator deterrent, if that’s what she ran from – but she may have quite a different story to tell.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the
headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.