A loud crack came from the bushes opposite of me, then a moose cow sprang out of the willows. My hands automatically grabbed for the collars of the two young dogs sitting beside me, the old dog being already largely immobilized by deafness, poor vision and arthritis. A split second later, a small light-brown calf consisting largely of legs and ears followed.
“Down,” I hissed at the dogs, who slowly obeyed. To them, moose rank on about the same level of interest as horses to a farm dog, thanks to the landscaping moose do on a regular basis around our cabin. But fast movements at close quarters will always get a dog’s attention – although not old Leshi’s. She kept grinning benevolently at me, exhaling a deadly dose of doggy breath, utterly ignorant of the moose not even 200 metres away. Gently, she wagged the tip of her tail while I curled my fingers firmly around the two dog collars.
Thankfully, the bear that I half expected to come crashing after the moose didn’t materialize. Whatever had prompted the cow to jump into the open without caution, now that she was on the bank of the creek, suspicion returned. I shrank into the surrounding foliage. While his mom’s nose vibrated up into the air, her ears turning this way and that, the calf gleefully noticed the water, craning his short neck. Looking much like a rabbit on stilts, he stalked to the creek on his long knobby legs and lowered his head to sniff at the water – a marvellous feat, considering his wildly unbalanced proportions.
The cow nervously paced up and down the bank behind her calf, quickly tearing off a mouthful of greens here and there before immediately jerking up her head again to check for danger. How could she not notice us? The wind was in our favour but apart from that, only a friendly fringe of fireweed and a few dead branches provided camouflage.
The cinnamon calf dared to get his hooves wet in the creek and then instantly transformed into a miniature rodeo horse, splashing through the shallow water, kicking up his heels and shaking his head. He capered over to a submerged log, stopped to look at his mom, then turned around with much gusto and romped back to his mother, throwing up curtains of glittering water drops as he went.
I pulled firmly down on the collars and bestowed a withering look on each dog, who were now being sorely tested in their obedience. A frolicking moose, and not that much taller than themselves, so close – and yet so far. Nooka started whining softly at the annoying pitch of a mosquito. “Quiet,” I snarled. The other dog lay and shook with the effort to control himself. A soft snore came from old Leshi who had fallen asleep.
The cow went to give her calf a tender lick across his still tiny nose and then began to browse again. Couldn’t she feel the tension building among the two young dogs and myself, even if she didn’t smell or hear us? Apparently not. Every few seconds, her head jerked nervously up into the air again, though. The calf investigated mom’s lunch but found the whole browsing business rather boring. He stood around undecided, his eyes and huge ears taking in the world around him. Then he looked directly at me.
The fervent wish to turn into a tree comes over you more often than you’d think when you live in the bush, and here it was again. I slowly lowered my eyelids and tried to suck whatever human energy radiates from a person deep down into me and become something else. Please don’t be scared and leave. I felt the attention of the calf on me for another two seconds, then it wavered and the next thing I knew, he was back in the creek, splashing loudly through the water. Quietly, I exhaled, exuberant that the spell hadn’t been broken.
But whether the cow was eager to get back into cover or something of our presence had seeped into her consciousness, just a minute later she quickly stepped away from the creek and into the trees, her calf scampering eagerly behind her. The branches closed after them, swayed for a few more seconds and then the other side of the creek lay deserted again.
I finally stretched and clipped the leashes on the dog collars to be safe, lavishing extravagant praise on the dogs who soon looked extremely pleased with themselves. I gently woke old Leshi and as I made my way back to the cabin, I wondered as I often do what animals were watching us just as unobserved as we had been only minutes before.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.