Don't Mess With Da Moose
Just to clarify, moose are pretty darn big. I mean, you may have seen a stuffed moose before, so you’re aware that they’re large. Yet, there’s something about a living, breathing, angry moose that just can’t be expressed in a taxidermy figurine.
I was in the final days of a three week adventure out west participating in the Summer Science Institute through Hudsonville High School. The course was designed to be a journey into the national parks and wilderness of North America’s western states, focusing on the geology and biology that envelop the natural beauty that resides there. Our caravan was composed of 24 high school seniors, a geologist, a biologist, and a big yellow school bus. Every night we joined together (kind of like the Brady Bunch actually) and set up camp, completing pre-assigned chores before dinner and campfire.
Never was there a dull moment. It was “roughing it” at its finest, keeping a constant fast pace as we traveled like gypsies from one state to the next. We never stayed in one place for more than five nights, and we were able to cover national parks like the Badlands, the Black Hills, the Grand Tetons, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, and many others that litter the highways in-between. As our journey drew to an end, we found ourselves hiking the high altitudes of Glacier National Park in the northern most parts Montana. Let me quick paint you a picture:
The hike that day had been a little longer, probably about a ten mile round trip, and we were all feeling it. After three weeks of little hygiene upkeep and battling against exhaustion many were left in poorer health (personally, I was sick as a dog). Sickness and the heat were the least of our worries, despite it being mid July. The high altitudes were a killer. Constantly we had to guzzle water to remain hydrated as we trekked the trails. We were tired, dirty, and exhausted.
Now we return to the moose.
The hike was coming to an end, and some of us were rejoicing. Many of us were nearly out of water and some were limping from blisters. Finally we reached the woods that marked the beginning of the trail. Running along the outskirts of the wood was one of the many lakes that speckle Glacier, and we could see through the trees that a group of people had begun to gather at the water’s edge.
“Anybody wanna go check it out?” Mr. Jordan, our fearless leader and biologist asked.
Some of the group shook their heads. One girl had a total of nine blisters between her two feet, and she led half of the group back to the bus. The rest of us, smelly and spent, followed Mr. Jordan down the path faithfully. As the trees parted, we could see that many of the bystanders were holding cameras and facing the sparkling lake. The quiet surrounding us was only interrupted by the clicking of Nikons and excited whispers. I shoved my way through the clusters to try to see what all the fuss was about.
At first, I could see antlers, long and wide protruding from the water. Then, a head popped up, wet with a mouth full of green. Standing withers deep in the lake water, munching on some willow saplings stood a bull moose. He looked like a fuzzy bobber in the blue-green water as the miniature waves broke against his body.
“Awww, he is magnific!” a little mustached frenchman whispered to his wife. “He is so calm, so serene!”
Members of group began spreading out, hoping to find a primo spot to capture the perfect shot of the moose as he grazed.
He has got to see us, I thought as I looked around the beach. He’s only 20, maybe 25 feet from the shore.
I kept my eyes on my boyfriend Andrew and my best friends Anna and Lopez who seemed to be as precautious as I was, lingering under the safety of the trees. Some of my more daring companions took to the willow brush that was growing near the water, crouching down and angling their cameras. The moose seemed unaware of his paparazzi, continuing to munch and crunch on the willow branches carelessly.
And then Nate got a little too far in the water.
The entire trip Nate Foster had gone where no one else dared go, scaling rock formations in the Black Hills, climbing trees that towered above our heads in Yellowstone, all in the hope that he would capture the perfect shot. As Nate had attempted to gain some ground on the moose, he had failed to correct his footing before splashing into the icy water, alarming the bull moose.
Now, I can say from experience, you never, ever want to alarm a bull moose.
A face and antlers became terrifying clear as the moose suddenly erupted from the water, growing before our eyes as his hooves clawed the lake’s sandy bottom as he charged into the shallow water. Those around the waters edge screamed and started scrambling to escape as Mr. Jordan yelled for us to run up the trail. I turned sharply, running through the thick pine branches giving little notice to the twigs that scraped my arms and face. The moose seemed undeterred by the fleeing humans and kept right on coming.
Until he reached the willow branches that Nate had been in.
For some reason, the moose came through the shallow, standing with water clutching his ankles before he turned and ran into the dense underbrush: away from everyone. It was a quick motion on the moose’s part, but he vanished, all 1,500 pounds of him, into the green blur of leaves and twigs.
As Mr. Jordan frantically organized and counted the students (he had to be sure that none of us had been maimed or killed) we began saying our thanks to the powers that be. Moose attacks usually don’t end so well for the smaller mammal involved. But, we were all alive. Possibly stinkier than before seeing as some might have soiled themselves, but alive all the same. Slowly, we gathered our belongings and followed the trail back to the bus, all the while discussing our encounter. For the rest of the long bus ride home I can tell you this much: we gave Nate Foster quite a bit of flack for messing with a moose.