Heavy mist hangs on the trees like so many spiderwebs, shading everything in grey. The sky and land are blurred today, the clouds dragging themselves through the treetops. Reach into the mist and touch the sky. It feels similar to a snowfall: all sounds are somewhat muffled. Woodsmoke from our cabin fans out in a different shade of grey.
I pull up wet fistfuls of grass to feed to the chickens, shaking my head at our dog. He is stepping along the path almost on tiptoes, trying to avoid the unavoidable – getting his paws wet. He hates rain, contrary to his sister who is rushing through the wet bushes at top speed and getting thoroughly soaked.
Suddenly the dogs are way ahead of me, barking loudly at what must be an intruder – of the furry kind. The sudden appearance of another human being here would be really wild. “Hey! Milan, Nooka, come!” I holler in my deepest voice, a reflex by now. The dogs don’t bother to bark at small game, so if they sound the alarm, we call them back first and investigate later.
Good dogs, they come running to me right away. Cresting the little hill behind them is a pair of ears, then the head and neck of a cow moose. I lavish praise on the dogs and usher them back to the cabin under the watchful eye of the moose. We know each other, the cow and I and the dogs; she was a frequent visitor to our homestead all throughout fall and early winter.
“Oh, what good dogs, such good dogs. OK, in you go now – inside.” I shoo them into the cabin and alert Sam to our visitor. We rarely see moose this time of year, the cows keeping a low profile close to their calving sites and the bulls hanging out somewhere else entirely.
Sam and I walk back towards the hill where everything is subdued and quiet again after the volley of barks and my shouts. The cow has resumed feeding, grazing like a horse in our wild meadow, although with more difficulty – her neck barely stretches long enough for her to get her lips around the fresh greens. Last year’s calf, a little bull with antler buds just starting show above his eyes, is further down the slope.
I cheer quietly that both of them have made it through the winter.
“Does she look pregnant to you?” I ask Sam. The cow looks healthy and well-fed but not huge. Her fur, already beautiful to look at in late fall, is now bleached to a very light cinnamon colour. Her shoulder hump and flanks are almost blonde. Sam shakes his head. “I don’t think so. I guess the calf can stay with mommy for another year.”
The two moose ignore us, intent on juicy feed after all these months of living on frozen twigs. I’m happy for the calf – recently kicked off moose calves carry such an air of insecurity and bewilderment that I marvel they survive at all. But calving every year instead of every second year must still work to the advantage of the species, I guess.
It’s strange that in the discussions about moose numbers bears don’t seem to feature at all – not that I’d like to see bears “managed” any more than wolves. But all this talk about wolf management gives the impression that this one species held moose by the jugular alone. It makes one wonder how moose have managed to survive at all in North America for thousands of years, beleaguered by ravenous wolf packs that were uncontrolled, unlike modern wolves.
How did the moose do it?
But life is so much easier with a scapegoat. Never mind habitat fragmentation and degradation, an ever increasing human population and its attendant hunting pressure, never mind that bears actively hunt and kill a fair number of young moose calves. It must be all the wolves’ fault.
Ignorant of the debates waged among bureaucrats in their supposed interest, the cow and calf slowly work their way up the meadow, stopping at a willow to nibble on it.
A smile steals across my face.
The last time I watched these two feeding on that willow, it was rainy too and the seasons were changing. The trees were bare and fog patches lay low in the valley. The moose have come full circle.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.