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The Making of Moose Drool

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Photo by Ernie Hawks Photo by Ernie Hawks

Viewing wildlife from the Hawk's Nest

The big cow moose looked up from the water where she was drinking—or eating from the bottom, I could not tell which—directly at me. Since the rut was in the mountains where I hiked, I checked to make sure there wasn’t a bull I hadn’t detected. I’m never comfortable between two lovers and when they are moose I’m less comfortable. He wasn’t, for now, and she studied me carefully before retuning her snout to the water. When she looked up again, a lot of fresh moose drool appeared. 

The day had started, for me, just before the sky over the Canadian Rockies became light. As I shed the sleeping bag, October frosty air raised goose bumps on my bare legs. The night before I made sure long johns were only a quick grab away. In a few seconds, I was in them, and then fully dressed in a few more, all but boots. 

After firing the Jetboil stove to heat coffee water I pulled on my boots to go out and deal with another early morning detail. 

The SUV is a good little camper for one person and, on this morning, I took full advantage of one important feature —the heater. By the time the engine was running and the heater turned on, the coffee water was hot. It was time for a good day to begin.

I was “road hunting” with my camera and being self-contained in the car made breaking camp easy. A little granola, a travel cup full of java and I began adventuring. 

The day before I had experienced a “Rocky Mountain high” that still had me floating; I spent time with, and photographed, a Grizzly. Last night I downloaded the images onto my computer, which launched the high all over again. I was excited for what this day would bring. 

Driving into the Maligne Valley my hope was to see some caribou, which sometimes hang out there, but the success of the trip was not dependent on a sighting—the Spirit of the mountains took care of that. 

That Spirit is easy to know in the Maligne. High, saw-tooth-shaped peaks, some with natural arches, cast early morning shadows across the canyon. Their glacial-scraped, raw faces create an imposing east wall above the tree line. 

A coyote trotted along the side of the road. I pulled up a camera for a shot out the window but it turned and only showed me his bushy tail. That has been my experience with them.  

From a hill above Medicine Lake, I could see a bull moose flirting with a cow in the water. The morning light and the distance only allowed dark silhouettes of their cavorting. I stood in the chill for a half hour watching before returning to the heated car and some more coffee. 

By the time I reached Maligne Lake, the sun was warming the valley floor and the Spirit of the day had me fully in its grip. I parked at a trailhead and prepared for a short hike to a small lake. A young man from Germany was already there. He asked about bears and whether he would be safe. I said making noise is the best thing to do. He headed out while I prepared my daypack. 

It had rained the day before, and as I started up the trail, I noticed several tracks of various animals, deer and moose being the most common. Each had filled with water and frozen during the night. The trail looked muddy but was quite solid thanks to the cool morning temperatures. Several minutes later, maybe a mile into the hike I rounded a bend on the trail in a small, dense cedar grove. There was the fellow I had seen at the trailhead. He was off the trail in the trees and hadn’t seen me. As I moved down the trail he seemed a little agitated. When he finally noticed me, his excitement nearly exploded. 

“I just saw a moose! I have never seen a moose before, are we safe here?” 

I assured him that if it had left we were probably okay for now, but be very aware. I asked if it was a male or female, and he said, “It didn’t have any “horns.”  

I told him I thought there was a pond close and that we may see her again there. 

Once there I suggested we wait quietly and see if she showed up. He hung around for a couple minutes and said he needed to get back. I said fine, make noise as you go. 

I waited in the silence of the forest, all my senses alert. Scanning the area, I saw an active trail into the water on the other side.  

Above the forest, I could see one of the saw-tooth peaks reflecting the morning sun. I snapped the shutter a couple times and let my focus drop back to the water. A ring from a fish rising appeared. Some small birds, too far away to identify, flitted in brush. My gaze wandered around a bit and back to the trail into the water, and then up, again, to the peak. I looked at some more rings in the water and back to the trail. After about an hour of listening, smelling, feeling and watching I wondered if I had the patience for this either. Once again, I scanned across the trail—and there she was. 

Her huge moose presence was camouflaged until she wanted me to see her. I felt her Spirit—how she aids in moving emotions to allow for awareness, how she teaches strength, wisdom and patience. There is gentleness in that strength. It’s life awakening, and calms any fears I had. Still, I knew part of the lesson, her wisdom, was to be very conscious while not allowing trepidation to control me. 

She waded in my direction, dipping her snout and looking up. Each time gallons of moose drool flowed back into the pond. I thought about the beer by that name and could not stop a smile. 

Time went fast and she gave me several good poses, moving close before heading up the hill near the trail I had followed. She looked back once before her camouflage took her quietly and quickly out of sight and sound. 

The trail looped back in another direction; I took it to the car. Later in the day, while passing a small store, I thought a beer sounded good, rather unusual for a cool day. 

 


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Author info

Ernie Hawks Ernie Hawks is a former theater director who has branched into the creative fields of writing and photography. He lives in a cabin in Athol with his lovely wife Linda, and feeds the birds in his spare time.

Tagged as:

moose, wildlife, photography, Canadian Rockies, Maligne Valley, Medicine Lake, The Hawk's Nest

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