Moose are the cure to burned roof of the mouth syndrome, an affliction well know to pizza lovers. That short, sharp sting of pain as you greedily bite down on the still sizzling cheese and bury your teeth in the hot toppings and tomato sauce. The frayed skin that later hangs down behind your teeth as if you were an unravelling mummy. Such is the price you pay for pizza.
I was already resigned to giving myself the inevitable pizza burns as the delicious garlicky smell began to penetrate even the furthest corner of the cabin. We were about to consume our annual spring treat, fireweed and dandelion pizza. Painstakingly we had picked the tiny dandelion leaves and searched out fireweed stalks that had (hopefully) escaped the doggie sprinkler system.
As the evening sun lit the tender new vegetation a juicy apple green and we waited for the pizza to be done, a movement outside the window caught my eye. Up the path wandered a moose cow, her nose swaying from side to side over the soapberry bushes until honing in on some willow twigs.
“Do we know her?” Sam wondered. I looked at the light-coloured shoulder hump, her blackish lower jaw and the stringy bell. I couldn’t remember any close acquaintance with her, but she appeared to know her way around.
“She must have been here before, but maybe as a calf. I don’t know.”
As the moose ambled up closer to the cabin, the bushes, hummingbird feeder and path seemed to shrink in size. No matter how often I’ve seen them up close, it always strikes me again just how huge moose are. Sam got up to sneak outside and watch the moose.
“Are you coming, too?” he whispered. The pizza aroma had by now condensed into an almost palpable thing. “In a minute,” I replied as he eased open the door and tiptoed out. I looked into the oven: almost done.
Outside, Sam stalked after the moose, pausing behind conveniently camouflaging clumps of vegetation. The cow, who seemed to be too skinny for pregnancy, continued on, snacking on fresh leaves here and there until I couldn’t see her anymore from the window. Hurriedly, I took the pizza out and set it on the counter to cool. I narrowed my eyes at the napping dogs – could I trust them with our cheesy dinner while I went out? They had sinned no worse than the odd compost raid in long months, but have been known to steal butter, slurp up litres of sunflower oil and even eat a candle about once every year. A major coup was long overdue.
Not knowing where else to leave the pizza other than on the counter and in canine reach, I hoped for the best and went out to look for Sam and the moose. Sam was easy to spot, standing with emphasized casualness behind a poplar with his neck craned. I quietly went up to him and raised my eyebrows. He pointed to our dandelion patch, where we had harvested leaves only hours before.
The moose stood among the cheery yellow flowers, her nose snuffling among them, and grazed like a horse. Up went her big head again, the jaw chewing busily, while she scanned for signs of danger. Two long-legged steps and she took another bite of dandelions, her ears twitching in watchfulness.
Sam and I looked on as she progressed through our pizza toppings until she had enough and disappeared into the trees. It is rare that moose come to visit right by the cabin in spring. Between August and March, they wander by quite often, but hardly ever outside those months.
We went back to the cabin. I steeled myself for disaster as I opened the door. But, to our great relief, the dogs were still snoozing and our dinner sat unmolested where I had left it. Such good dogs. How could I have doubted them? I cut the steaming pizza into pieces, the fireweed stalks limply separating into thin leaves. As we sat and ate, for a change without shredding our gums, we realized that we had finally stumbled upon the antidote to always burning our mouths on pizza.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon
River south of Whitehorse.