among stampeding moose

There she is again - the moose cow with the bright white hindquarters, right in the willows. She's pulling at the upper twigs, breaking off the tips with a sharp nod of her head.

There she is again – the moose cow with the bright white hindquarters, right in the willows. She’s pulling at the upper twigs, breaking off the tips with a sharp nod of her head. At least this time we’re about a hundred metres away, not right next to her like we were the other day when all of a sudden, she exploded from the bush. Unwittingly, we had got too close to her.

The cow, her calf, our three dogs, Sam and I were wedged into a strip about 15 metres wide between a cliff and the creek. That’s when all the dog training really payed off. The cow ran forward, the calf backwards, the dogs came to heel at the first call, and we retreated in orderly fashion. With a couple hundred metres of space reestablished between the moose and ourselves, we watched as the cow slowly picked her way up the slope, calling softly for her calf to follow: “wa,” and then again “wa.”

We don’t often have encounters like that; either we notice the moose ahead of time or else they don’t react like this. But White Stocking seems to have a bit of an explosive personality. Where other cows are content to stand and stare, not unlike cattle, she opts for action. Not too surprising when a whole horde of dogs and people crowd in on her, though.

This time it’s different, I think. Although she and her little one are in exactly the same spot again – her calf is browsing where we startled her before, but now I’m 200 metres away. I tell the dogs to sit, grateful that the puppy finds his stick a lot more interesting than the moose. I try for a non-threatening posture, turning myself a bit sideways, which seems to put animals at ease. It probably looks as if you’re busy with something else and not focusing on them. The cow stands and stares at us, semi-camouflaged by a willow bush. I’m craning my neck to see if her calf is a boy or a girl – and suddenly she freaks again.

Off through the bush she goes, branches snapping and flying like firework, calling loudly in what almost sounds like a bark: “Eh!” Her calf shoots up the steep slope at a gallop, ploughing through the underbrush, hooves pounding the ground, and White Stocking keeps running, all the while barking her command: “Eh!”

The dogs are quivering, I’m confused – what did we do? – when all of a sudden, the bush starts crackling to my right. I spin around, and there’s another moose cow, this one without a calf, running up the hill. She stops briefly, ears perked forward to zero in on the direction White Stocking and her calf are disappearing in. I can still hear them, branches keep breaking and she keeps calling.

The second cow starts running again, following the other two into the woods. I look around uneasily, half expecting to see grizzly eager for a hibernation snack rush after them (and wouldn’t I be standing right in the way?), but there’s nothing. The alarm call of White Stocking, the thunder of hooves and snapping of branches slowly fades into the distance.

I’m left standing here, feeling stupid. We get along fine with all the moose who wander by the cabin, taking great pains not to scare them, not let the dogs chase them. And now this. The first time when we almost walked right into White Stocking must have left a very bad impression; maybe she thought we were about to ambush her calf this time. There is no way I can apologize or explain to her.

I walk home with the dogs, disappointment and a strange feeling of shame giving way to wonder. Where did the second cow come from, and why would she run after White Stocking and the calf? Is the alarm call so powerful that all moose in the area immediately take flight? I add it to my moose vocabulary, sad little thing that it is, containing only a handful of sounds. Too bad it doesn’t include “Sorry, I really didn’t mean to scare you.”

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.