Paul Andersen: Fair Game
September 21, 2009
I saw a moose last week, a stately, full-grown bull moose with palmated antlers, dark fur, and a tall, humped back like a bison. He stood 6 feet high at the shoulders and stared us down with small, beady eyes as we walked up the Thomasville Road from Lime Park in the upper Fryingpan valley.
Seeing a moose in this neck of the woods is rare, but what made this moose really stand out was the company he was keeping. The moose had attached himself to a small herd of cows, which he shepherded around like a proprietary range bull.
A solitary, bachelor moose, this one apparently longed for companionship, and since moose are scarce, he affixed himself to the compliant bovines. His adopted harem seemed content to graze with this tall, dark, handsome stranger from the north.
My friend spotted him among the cows as we crossed Lime Creek on our way backpacking from Josephine Lake to the Ruedi Trail. We had been out three days on a six-day trip when the moose confronted us on the road and stood staring at us from less than 50 feet away.
From what I’ve read, moose can be aggressive, so we watched him carefully. This moose was docile, however, and seemed simply curious of us humans wearing our huge packs. The cows were more skittish than he, and as they moved off, he moved with them.
“Can a moose breed with a cow?” asked my buddy. The question played on our minds for the next three days. First, we wondered about the genetic possibilities, then mused over suitable names for the offspring. We agreed that “moosecow” could be an appealing name, then wondered what the thing would look like.
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Only Dr. Seuss could do justice to a “moosecow,” but we pictured a thick, squat body on long, stilt-like legs. Milking such a creature would require a stepladder. There’s slim chance of such a blending of genes. Still, evolutionary forces have their mysteries, so a “moosecow” could one day muddy the gene pool with a bizarre and laughable adaptation.
This moose/cow mix would not be the first of such a cross-species expression. Bullwinkle and Rocket J. Squirrel pioneered a trans-species relationship that amused the children of my generation for years. The loose moose we saw, with its furry goatee, pronounced muzzle, and hippo-like ears, conjured up other cultural moose icons and reminded me of a story Utah Phillips liked to tell about a moose turd pie.
Phillips described a northern logging camp where the biggest, strongest logger had it in for whoever was unlucky enough to be named camp cook. As each man, in turn, took up that unpopular post, the big logger intimidated him with threats for the atrocities they dared to serve up.
Utah Phillips said that when it came his turn to cook, he decided that there was nothing to lose, so he went out and found a huge moose turd, which he baked in a pie. When he served it to the big logger, the man took a bite, sat bolt upright, and fixed his gaze on the anxious cook. “Why, that’s the best tasting moose turd pie I’ve ever eaten!” smiled the logger.
Elizabeth Bishop wrote a poem called “The Moose.” It’s a long ramble about a public bus in the backwaters of New Brunswick that picks up passengers in the rural countryside. When a moose steps onto the road, causing the bus to stop, all other action stops, too. It’s as if the moose has arrested the flow of human life with its remarkable appearance.
“A moose has come out of/the impenetrable wood/and stands there, looms, rather…Taking her time/she looks the bus over/grand, otherworldly/Why, why do we feel/this sweet sensation of joy?”
Two days after seeing the moose, while hiking the high ridge of Red Table Mountain and looking over a huge horizon of peaks and valleys, I still couldn’t get over it. “A moose!” I remarked to my friend, “A bull moose!”
I’m sure the unlucky cowboy who has to eventually cut that big bull moose from his herd will be just as impressed. He will have a lovelorn moose to contend with, not to mention the same speculation we had about finding a “moosecow” in the calving barn.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.
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