The Sacred Moose
By Karla Fetrow
India doesn’t really have anything on Anchorage, Alaska when it comes to sacred four-legged animals over-running a town. India has its sacred cows, Anchorage has its moose. It isn’t that we’re not allowed to eat these somewhat gangly looking but surprisingly graceful ungulates, but Anchorage has a law against shooting one in its rather extensive city limits; which covers a bit of wilderness as well as urban length. Somehow, the moose seem to know this and hunting season finds more moose crossing the busy boulevards and blocking sidewalks than you can find hiding behind a tree.
Not that Alaskans object. It’s not clear just when the love affair with moose began, but they have clearly become a household pet. Although fish and game discourages the feeding of wild animals, someone forgot to tell the moose. If you don’t feed them, they are very much inclined to help themselves. Were you thinking of growing forty pound cabbages to enter in the fair? Think again if a moose gets a whiff of them. Neither are they adverse to chowing down on your carefully planted lettuces, peas and green beans. To freshen their breath, they’ll take a few hefty mouthfuls of your rose bushes as well.
They’ll also invite themselves in for lunch. When I was a child, a mother moose decided to use our back yard for her winter garden. The first couple of years she came down, we’d chuckle as we watched her paw through the snow, finding the left-overs from our harvest and tossing them high in the air to rid them of ice and clinging snow before devouring them. By the third year, however, she had begun to grow bold. Hearing some noise on the back porch one day, my mother thought someone had come over to visit and was stamping the snow off their feet. She opened the door, and in stepped the moose. The family dog immediately went into a frenzy, worrying the moose around the ankles, but one swift kick with a well- placed hoof sent the dog scurrying under the table. My mother thought she could scare the moose by waving her apron and banging pots and pans, but she was wrong. The moose merely looked at her curiously. She was able to get the moose out the door by shooing it along with a broom.
Despite a not so neighborly welcome, the moose was not easily discouraged. Deciding the kitchen smells were wonderful, she routinely clamored up to the porch, and waited, sure someone would come out to invite her in. My mother exhausted all her resources trying to keep her away. One day, in exasperation, she threw some pork chop bones at her, left over from the evening meal. The moose examined the pork chop bones, nibbled a little, then deciding they weren’t edible, looked sadly our way. My mother’s heart began to relent. Deciding the poor moose must be very hungry, she immediately decided it was a good day to clean out the refrigerator, removing all the shriveling vegetables, and not quite so shriveled ones, and throwing them out to the moose. The moose and my mother had finally made friends. As long as we threw the scraps to her, she quit climbing up on the porch, and after awhile, she’d even bring her babies along for us to admire.
This particular moose, whose ascendents still come by in the winter for a little uninterrupted browsing, became so tame, we could go about our business in the yard with as much normalcy as though the creature standing there was one of our goats instead of a moose. One year, she had an especially curious youngster who walked right up to me while I was playing. I looked at the soft velvety nose stretched out to me, and against all the warnings and instructions I had been given growing up, I reached out and petted it. Never had I felt anything so tender and silky. I was in complete awe. I looked around anxiously for the mother. She was watching from a copse of birch, but did not look offended. She actually seemed to look proud and approving.
Moose are remarkably social animals. When one neighbor put up fences to pen in his horses, a particularly stubborn moose began jumping over the fence to pay his visits. The horses didn’t seem to mind, but the neighbor did. He decided to run some electric wire. It was never made quite clear who the culprit was, but the next time he checked, the electric wire was completely mangled, the fence was down and the moose and the horses were peacefully visiting.
The moose also liked to check up on those who used a favorite swimming hole for their own recreational activities. While we splashed and played, dove and swam, we could often see a pair of antlers poking out at us from the opposite side of the lake. If there was plenty of picnic food filling the air with the scent of potato salad, fresh tossed greens, ripe fruits and coleslaw, those antlers would soon be sticking up out of the water, growing larger until an elongated head and rump appeared, and before we knew it, a moose would be inviting itself to picnic.
Moose can also be quite possessive. After cutting down and stacking a huge pile of brush one summer, a young bull moose perceived our labor as a special work force for insuring him a winter harvest. He spent the entire winter guarding and snacking on that brush pile, dwindling it down to next to nothing by spring, before wandering off to sample fresher produce. Unfortunately, the brush had been piled dangerously close to the driveway. People getting in and out of their vehicles looked nervously toward the statuesque sentry, while he lowered and shook his head and pawed the ground in dire warning. He never charged anyone, but his warning was clear. Do not even think of joining me in my banquet.
Moose and people just had to learn to get along, because apparently, the moose weren’t going anywhere. Industry moved in, and a new highway was built, cutting off some of the usual moose pathways. One day a motorist discovered a mother moose had become separated from her baby by crossing the new road while the calf was still on the other side. The calf had followed its mother into a fenced construction zone, still on the other side of the highway. The two were frantic as they looked for a way to reach other. The motorist stopped and picked up the calf, while the mother bellowed like the world was falling apart. The calf kicked and struggled, the mother tore up some brush, but the motorist persisted; carrying the calf across the road and placing it on the other side of the barrier. The motorist was a bit bruised and bloodied for his efforts, and the moose didn’t even stop to say thank you, but it was gratitude enough to see the pair united and ambling across together.
Those early days of development may have confused the moose, but as well as being social, they happen to be wonderfully adaptable. Deciding there was very little difference between us, except people had two legs instead of four, and were incredibly noisy, they have even opted to using our social services. Several times, moose have been banished from senior centers after choosing the spacious lobbies for their retirement home. They also know where to go in case of an emergency. Hospitals have been caught off guard when moose activated the automatic eye opener on the service doors and calmly walked in. Since they failed to state the nature of their emergency, they were also escorted back out.
They also discovered that backyards with wading pools were at least as convenient as cooling off in a lake. Clean and refreshing, they bring along their calves to enjoy a little playground recreation. Cautions are given however, about tangling in the swing sets. Best to leave those weird pieces of flying boards to the bear cubs.
The Moose enjoy the Christmas season as much as any Christmas caroler. This is the time of year when tiny bright lights are twinkling. They are free to all moose for decorating their antlers. It’s also the time of year to be jolly. The crab apples, which the silly two-legged humans leave liberally on their trees, have begun to ferment, adding a nice, intoxicating buzz to their flavor. Drunken moose then stagger through the streets, joining the Yuletide celebration with their own beverage of choice.
You might say we have a moose problem. They are notorious party crashers, recklessly jaywalk across the street, block traffic, break and enter, trespass, steal, are public drunks, yet we don’t see them as a problem at all. They are the eccentric neighbor, the rebel without a cause, the spirit of defiance and freedom, returning again and again to delight, amuse and entertain us. They are mild mannered and gentle at the most surprising times. They are intelligent, humorous and domesticate easily. It’s very difficult not to keep them as a household pet. They are a symbol of how wildlife can adapt to human occupation without restraints. They are our sacred moose.
Karla Fetrow: India might have its sacred cows, but Anchorage, Alaska has its sacred moose.