Thursday, January 31, 2008
There's an Alces in my backyard
I don't think there are too many places in the world where you can say that you're annoyed that an ice-age holdover is in your yard. Here in Anchorage, Alces alces gigas is extremely common. They get huge very quickly, the mothers become dangerously protective of their babies during the summer, and the males grow enormously broad antlers during the spring. Our moose stand around 7 feet high at the shoulder, and you can't go into a wooded area during the summer months without coming within twenty feet or less of one. Usually, moose in the Anchorage Bowl have become fairly docile. This is not to say they approach people, but they tolerate our presence.
Females become very aggressive when they've got calves by their sides. Whenever I see a calf my mind flashes "where's the mom?" She could be charging at me. My wife has been charged three times (only once by an irate mother), and I've been charged once. There's really no feeling like seeing an enormous artiodactyl bearing down on you, with death on its tiny mind. As we learned, most charges are fake-outs, and the moose will suddenly veer off in another direction before you get squashed. This is not to say that a moose will always do that--we've just been lucky. It's probably a good idea to find some tall trees to hide behind, or scrub pines if you're around skree rocks.
But they are awesome creatures, and my favorite Alaskan mammal. There are countless stories I could tell about moose sightings, but I'm just going to tell two right now.
1) My wife and I were hiking around a mountain base two summers ago. At one point we were forced through some thicket, with a narrow bridge crossing a long-dried-up streambed. The streambed provided the only relief from the thick foliage. When we stepped onto the bridge, what should I notice to our right but an enormous bull moose, antlers fully grown. This was a bull in the prime of its life. After that summer, I'm sure it's antlers would start getting a bit smaller year by year. It was big, healthy, and thankfully for us, did not care about humans. This bull was literally mere feet away from us. If I had a carrot, the beast would have taken it from my outstretched hand. Gina and I actually saw over a dozen moose that day, including a good-sized group complete with sparring males. We stumbled across a resting female and preyed that our dog wouldn't bother it. I, perhaps stupidly, wandered into some thicket after hearing what sounded like something large tromping through it (it was a big cow), and then of course there was that giant male.
Your heart kind of skips a beat when you see a huge bull that close. Although he clearly noticed us, he didn't seem bothered by our presence. We, of course, kept on walking lest he change his mind. That was too cool for words, though, and I have not been so close to a moose since. Nor, perhaps, would I want to be.
2) Just after Halloween this year, Gina gets up at like 2 a.m. to get a drink of water when she sees a large shadow move across the kitchen window (which does not have a shade). Probably because it's 2 a.m., she yells for me, perhaps thinking it's a robber or something. I stumble out of bed and peek out the window, and come face to face with one of the neighborhood regulars munching on our tiny pumpkins, which were set out on the stoop for Halloween. The moose is as happy as can be, because food is kind of scarce during the winter (and twigs must get pretty old). After she consumes all five pumpkins, she just wanders off, and I give Gina a hard time for being freaked out by a moose outside.
Now it's almost 2 a.m. right now (I honestly don't know why I'm still awake) so I'm heading to bed! But remind me sometime, if I forget, to tell you about the time Gina and I (and the dog) were aggressively charged my a mother moose. That experience kind of scared me straight about Alces alces, and I approach them now with extreme caution, even though many of them probably don't care that I'm there.