Last weekend, I was reminded of this by a rather unlikely teacher. I got chased by a moose!
I was hiking up Scotchman Peak just north of Clark Fork, Idaho when I happened upon a moose family; a bull, a cow and -- although I didn't see it at first -- a young calf. I was climbing the steep trail when I saw the bull and the cow about 75 yards ahead, right on the trail I wanted to take. I have great respect for moose. In general, they're not too concerned about humans, but you always want to honor their space.
View of Scotchman Peak from the valley floor
The trail up...
As soon as I saw them, I stopped. The bull had already seen me and was scoping me out. I spoke to him in a level voice and asked if I could proceed on the trail. I had gotten a couple of glimpses of the cow as she moved about, but I hadn't seen the calf yet. The bull wasn't too concerned by my presence so, as I spoke, I would take a few steps at a time toward him, continuing to ask if it was OK, and promising to respect and honor his mountain. Before I got too far, Mama Moose decided that I had come close enough and she started heading down the trail toward me with bull and baby right behind. She wasn't attacking or charging me, but the message was clear: "Turn back, Mark."
Yes, Mrs. Moose!
Good morning, Mr. Moose!
I'm not one to argue with a moose, so I turned around and headed back the way I came.
Before I go any further, let me explain that I spend a lot of time in the back country and I make it a point to be in tune with my surroundings. I listen...I sense...I feel...and Nature always lets me know what to do. A cow moose with a calf is potentially as dangerous as a mama bear with a cub, but a moose will only become aggressive if she feels she or her offspring are threatened. I have encountered cow moose with calves on three previous occasions. Each time, the mama moose let me know whether or not it was OK for me to hang around.
The first time was about 6 years ago. I came upon a cow with twin calves and, after asking permission, started shooting pictures. The cow was OK with it for awhile, then she turned and told me to go. So, of course, I did.
Moose mom nursing twin calves, September 2002
A couple of years after that, I was jaccuzing in a wilderness hot spring when a cow and calf came out of the woods and started munching ferns right at the edge of the pool I was soaking in -- only 15 feet away. They were very aware of my presence and didn't mind my being there at all.
Just this last April, my partner, Cricket, and I encountered a cow with a very young, wobbly-legged calf. We sat down on a log and took quite a few photos, speaking softly and reassuringly to Mama moose the whole time. She was very obliging and let us hang around as long as we wanted.
Mama and baby moose, April 2008
Now, back to last weekend on Scotchman Peak. Mama Moose had told me to turn back, so I was moving at a relaxed jog back down the trail. Not only was I giving the moose their space, I also took it as a message from the mountain that today was not the day for me to climb Scotchman Peak. I had traveled down the trail a ways when I encountered two hikers coming up the trail. I stopped and told them about the approaching moose. Within less than a minute, we heard the moose mooving through the brush very close by, traveling parallel to the trail we were on. Now, the best way to avoid them, was to head back up the trail. So...back up the three of us went. I'll admit that I was wondering if that was the right thing for me to do, because I thought I had gotten the message just a few minutes earlier not to take the trail that day.
A few minutes later, just as we got to the place where I had first seen the moose, I noticed that I had missed a switchback earlier, and I had been starting to take a bad trail. I hadn't seen the switchback because it was obscurred by a fallen tree, and I had been totally focused on the moose. When I returned, the picture became clear -- Mama Moose was there to keep me from taking the wrong trail. Then, after I had backtracked, she had me turn around again so I could make it to the top of the mountain.
Breathtaking view from the trail
Almost (huff...puff...) to the top!
Nature is a sophisticated, intricate web -- a web you and I are a part of. We're constantly receiving messages that can guide us along the path we need to travel. This applies to our health and well-being as well as to wilderness trails. You need only listen and you'll find your way to the top of your mountain.
View of Lake Pend Oreille from the Summit of Scotchman Peak
Another view from the top