I hadn’t played peek-a-boo with a baby in a long, long time. It’s so cute when they crinkle up their eyes in delight, mouth agape in a gummy smile, but this one just stared at me stoically. I ducked back into the chicken coop, hiding behind the open door, then popped out again and said “boo.”
Of course this five-month old already had a full set of teeth, even sported a beard, but the little bull calf really could have shown a bit more reaction than that, I thought.
For almost a week now, he and his mom have been diligently pruning all Saskatoon and willow bushes around us. Cattle-like (there is something definitely bovine about the way moose stare), they’ve taken to standing in the way, unwilling to move where fancy doesn’t take them.
The cow has become quite relaxed about the presence of Sam and me while keeping a watchful eye on the dogs, but her calf is more suspicious and prone to doing nervous little hops. Immediately, the head of his mother will rise, an inquisitive stare be directed at us (“Wasn’t us, we didn’t do anything,” we’d assure her) and the message clearly conveyed that nobody is to mess with her calf.
The skittish calf made our coexistence a bit more difficult when the moose, after diplomatically feeding further away from the cabin during the day, started to show up by the cabin right around chicken feeding time. There I was, standing with the feed bucket, while the cow and her calf blocked my way to the chicken coop. Sidling by them would have been stupid I felt, what with the calf, and taking a big detour didn’t always work either because the moose headed right for the chickens. Why they must do this exactly at those times twice a day that I was also on my way over there is beyond me.
Sam suggested scaring them off but I didn’t want to do that; they are our closest neighbours after all and why sour a relationship of mutual tolerance? Banging against the bucket had proved to be an inefficient method of moose herding, anyway.
And so I stood, the chickens’ cackles becoming increasingly more annoyed at the delay in their feeding schedule, the moose sedately breaking off frozen sticks, and my voice, directed at the gardening crew, switching from wheedling to exasperation. With every step that the moose took closer to the chicken coop, I followed.
Half an hour later, all three of us had finally arrived there. With the little building to dive into if need be, I reluctantly edged my way closer to the moose. The cow saw nothing wrong with me poking around 25 metres behind her and pulled more willow branches into her mouth while her son, the antler buds above his eyes giving him a slightly boneheaded look, kept a sharp eye on me.
I continued with my running commentary, making noisy and obvious moves to bring across that I had no plans of sneaking up on him and his mom.
With my chicken chores done, I found the little bull still staring in fascination at me and tried to lighten him up with a game of peek-a-boo, to no avail. Feeling silly and somewhat chastised for my frivolity, I headed back to the cabin, thankfully unimpeded by moose traffic.
The two had obviously observed us and our little routines sharply because they rightfully concluded that the best time for an uninterrupted feeding in front of the cabin was the middle of the night. Dogs locked away, no people moving. Three to four a.m. became the hour of the moose – Nooka feeling compelled to notify us with loud barks that there were intruders right by the cabin. “Shut up, it’s OK” Sam yelled at her while I opened my bleary eyes wide enough to see the two hulking ice age shapes eating right below our window. A couple of indentations in the snow showed where the moose had bedded down.
Unfazed by the dog alarm that always announced their arrival at this ungodly hour, they kept showing up. Yesterday, I thought I might as well go out for a pee while I was awake and got up. As I opened the door, the cow’s dark shape loomed just to my left. I made my way out, clad only in winter gum boots and glowing ghostly white in the moonlight, when the cow wheeled away in terror at my spooky apparition. “Boo,” I said belatedly and then attended to my business.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who
lives at the headwaters of the
Yukon River south of Whitehorse.