And just what do those two have in common, you may wonder?
I’m so glad you asked.
One of the things Peter Grant has mentioned, when the topic of dangerous critters arose, is the sheer wrongheadedness of American Tourists in Africa. “You see,” he says, with a shake of his head, “they have seen the hippos on TV in pink tutus…”
I’ve never seen a hippo in the wild, and thanks to Peter’s tales, I know they are to be treated with extreme caution. What I have encountered in the wild, are moose. Which are somewhat less territorial – most of the time – than hippos from the sounds of it. Still, they are massive creatures and when you meet one while out walking, you’ll do best to cautiously beat a retreat while looking as harmless as possible. From various videos of tourists I’ve seen, most of them seem to have the same opinion of moose than they do of the hippo. Anything that looks that silly can’t be dangerous, can it?
There was a cold winter’s night I met a moose. Well, to be precise, there were two of them. It was one of those early Alaskan nights where the sky is clear, filled with stars, and the rising moon reflecting from the snow makes it almost light as day. I was walking home from my grandfather’s cabin, a short trip of perhaps a mile. The weather was not unduly cold, if I recall correctly it was about forty below zero, and the packed snow crunched pleasantly under my boots while the moonlight glittered on the new-fallen snow heaped alongside the roads. The loose snow was perhaps three feet deep, which is why the moose were also walking on the road. They stepped out of the spruce, trudged through it a few steps, then delicately made their way over the berm onto the road surface. At this point, I had stopped.
I was contemplating turning around and heading back towards my grandfather’s, as the moose were now between me and my own home. They had ignored me when they came up on the road, there being some distance between us, and while I watched they turned and headed away from me, towards home… and incidentally, in the direction of the deep wilderness that lay past our cabin. There were no other houses between ours and the distant Alaska Range. They crunched along with their peculiarly awkward gait, which if you ever have a chance to walk, is elegantly efficient. I decided, since they weren’t minding me, that I’d follow. Slowly, at a safe distance.
What I hadn’t thought through, being a youngster and not enough experience, was how the dog would take my action. I had my sister’s border collie with me, you see. Nina had been good about staying with me, but as soon as I started moving in the same direction as the moose, she took this as unspoken permission to do what border collies do best. I watched in dismay as she zipped over the smooth surface of the packed road, a black and white blur.
Moose are perfectly capable of defending themselves, and will do so, which is why you treat them with respect. Several hundred pounds of muscles tipped in pointed hooves and antlers is nowhere near as silly as their movement may imply. Moose particularly do not like wolves, and don’t discriminate between dog and wolf. As Nina reached them, they left the road and headed off into the woods, barely seeming to hurry at all, long-legged strides carrying them easily away from the brisk dog who meant to put them in their place. Nina headed after them, the snow deeper than she was, bouncing happily in order to see her way. When she’d vanished into the thick spruce, I was convinced I’d never see her again.
I headed for home. It was too cold to stand still for any length of time, and I certainly wasn’t going to chase into deep snow after the fool dog and risk encountering peevish moose. I’d made it almost all the way home, rounding the corner, when a very happy dog bounded up behind me, her tail plumes flying high. She’d put those moose in their place, all right! And now, it was time to go home and have our dinner.
She was lucky it was too deep for her to really chase the moose. I was lucky they had decided I was non-threatening. It was and is one of my fondest memories, walking with moose on an Alaska winter’s evening.