on winter moose and nuggets of a different kind

The moose maintained a parallel course to me, only separated from me by a tangle of willows. When I reached a small knoll from where soapberry and…

The moose maintained a parallel course to me, only separated from me by a tangle of willows.

When I reached a small knoll from where soapberry and saskatoon bushes allowed me a better look at the young bull, I stopped —so did the moose!

Hoping to prolong this encounter with a fellow winter resident of the otherwise fairly lonely woods, I remained very still and tried to give off as non-threatening vibes as possible.

The moose didn’t move either except for twitching his ears and nostrils, which I answered with a smile. Ever so slowly, he took a few steps towards me, then stood still again.

At less than 10 metres distance, we regarded each other with friendly curiosity while the sonar pings of the lake ice rippled through the otherwise quiet morning.

After resting his eyes on me in contemplation for a couple of minutes, the bull turned around and with his rear end pointed towards me started munching on saskatoon twigs.

Reluctant to break the spell, I slowly started moving back to the cabin, the moose’s only reaction a rotation of his ears into my direction. Contentedly pruning the shrubs, he eventually disappeared up the hill.

Elated with this peaceful moose meeting, I resumed collecting dead underbrush and wood cut-offs from around the cabin for the solstice bonfire.

It was a good way and occasion to clean up the mess of dead wood that invariably seems to sprout anew every year.

Throwing broken off branches onto the pile, I pondered the curiosity of this young bull moose.

During the winter, we usually have moose coming by, sometimes hanging out around the place for two or three days, but they either ignore us or are pretty skittish.

I’ve come to believe that moose around the house don’t necessarily mean that they are trying to evade wolves, but rather that they come to feed and rest as anywhere else in their habitat as long as they feel unthreatened by human (and dog) presence.

At least so far we have never found any wolf tracks in the wider area when we had moose hanging around.

With the lake ice being close to two weeks old, the loose group of moose that have been staying up in the “antler cemetery” over the past weeks, in their post-rut haven, will probably start crossing the lake any time now.

We have noticed here that the moose stay off the newly formed ice for at least seven to 10 days, apparently not even checking it out because to date we’ve never found their tracks along shore right after freeze-up.

Strangely, once the moose do start crossing the ice, we can often tell by their tracks that within 24 hours quite a few (five to eight) cross the lake within a two-kilometre corridor, and most of the time, they all go into the same direction.

This seems to be independent of the wind direction or proximity of wolves, more like an urge for everybody to head over to the other side — maybe the moose version of the chicken crossing the road.

Our dogs find the frozen moose droppings more interesting than the intricacies of their wanderings, much to our disgust. All summer long the moose nuggets don’t interest the dogs much but in a frozen state, they appear to be irresistible.

 Consumed in large quantities, this leads to very constipated dogs and poor air quality in the cabin, so our winter walks are punctuated by cries of “Yuck! Drop it!”

The variety of things they eat never ceases to amaze me: from assorted animal droppings over sand and gravel to rotten wood and poplar bark, there seems to be hardly a limit as to what they will eat.

Perusing the label on the dog food one day, I discovered that among other things it contains steamed sweet potatoes, marigold extract and ground lobster shells. Lobster!

While we eat No Name oriental noodles with fake shrimp flavour! I figure now that the dogs are eating too healthy and, much in the way of humans, can’t resist the temptation to pig out on junk food of zip nutritional value whenever there’s a chance.

Once I assumed that the morning moose had wandered off, I let the dogs out of the cabin to give me company.

They excitedly checked out his still fresh tracks, then returned to where I was hauling more branches onto the bonfire pile. As they nosed through the snow, they unfailingly hit upon the frozen nuggets of some earlier moose.

And so, on a quiet pre-solstice morning, I had to add my voice to the pings of the ice: “Yuck! Drop it!”

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

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