Moose Shouldn't Become Invisible Edit


Moose are a fact of life in much of Alaska. We notice them in yards, on playgrounds, raiding gardens, browsing at roadsides, crossing lakes. They stand peaceful and unconcerned. Sightings are so frequent that moose lose the quality of uniqueness that inspires statements like, "Oh, honey! There's a moose over there! Stop the car!" Like antelope in Wyoming or alligators in Florida, they become nearly invisible to residents. Lest a visitor or newcomer to Alaska be misled, I want to recount an incident that occurred several years back.

My two dogs and I were ski-jouring along a familiar, well-traveled trail that followed a ridgeline above Fairbanks on an afternoon in January. My skis glided a couple of feet below the level of the thigh-deep snow in the forest, the trail compacted by snow machines and other skiers. The sun rode just above the horizon, its thin light painting the snow, spruce, birch and aspen yellow, all accented by blue shadows. The slight southerly breeze was warm for January and the hope of spring was easy to conjure.

We reached a spot where the trail wove a series of turns in a long, steep, downhill run. The particularly rigid nature of the trees standing trailside suggested I unhook the dogs at the top and make the run independent of their energy. When I released the harness clips, the dogs bounded ahead, disappearing around the first bend. Stowing the towline in my jacket, I pushed off expecting a dramatic run. I got one.

Within seconds I rounded a corner at speed and was partially blinded by the sunlight, noting the dogs were here and something big was in the trail - a moose. I couldn't ski off the trail since the sides were hardened so I sat down to avoid a collision. Twelve feet in front of me stood a cow and a few feet behind her stood last May’s calf. The dogs were worrying them from the deep snow beside the trail.

From where I sat she seemed immensely tall and powerful. She was. As I tried to release the binding of the second ski, hoping to be able to back away from them, the cow’s head lowered, hackles lifted, ears went back and she started toward me at a trot. One ski still on, both pole straps still around my wrists, I lunged up and over into the soft snow beside the trail, rolling away since walking, crawling or skiing were out of the question. On my second roll I saw that she had reached me and reared up on her hind legs like a horse in a Western movie, that her front hooves now driving down toward me. Suddenly I heard more than felt an astounding crack on my head but kept rolling, rolling, rolling, fueled by adrenaline. I reached a spruce tree and came up for air and a look. The scene was fuzzy since my glasses were gone, but I could see that the cow still stood where she had stomped my head, front legs hidden in the soft snow, grunting warning. The dogs were frantic. I called them and both, by some miracle, came to me. Within minutes the cow and calf sauntered up the trail with a calm that belied the stress the incident must have caused them.

Neighbors skied by shortly and helped me find the missing glasses. One of them, a nurse, took a look at the back of my head and mentioned a mandatory visit to the clinic for a sewing session. I hooked up the dogs and they pulled me the mile or so home. At the clinic, I had twenty six stitches put into my scalp. By that time I had calmed down enough to realize how fortunate I was to have survived the episode.

Today, when I ski, mountain bike, or hike, I have a well-developed understanding of what might be around the next corner. One must always watch for moose. They should never become invisible.