Of Moose and Monks

By , May 5, 2016

The dress rehearsal for Incorruptible: A Dark Comedy About the Dark Ages is tonight (see “The Play’s the Thing). As you might expect, the past couple weeks have involved almost nightly practices, and continual line-running on my part (as it were).

Since I run lines by listening to a recording of one of our read-throughs on my iPod, and since studies show that memorizing while walking aids retention, I “play along” with the recording as I hike to and from the road to attend practice. This not only makes me sound like a victim of Tourette’s Syndrome as I wander through the forest, it makes me vulnerable to surprise.

As Brother Martin (John Hunt) and Father Charles (Mark Zeiger) contemplate the danger, a peasant woman (Judith McDermott) prays for their safety (Photo: KHNS News Staff).

As Brother Martin (John Hunt) and Father Charles (Mark Zeiger) contemplate the imminent danger, a peasant woman (Judith McDermott) prays to the remains of Saint Foy for their safety from angry moose (Photo: KHNS News Staff).

I described the recent, seemingly sudden appearance of a pair of moose on the roadside one night (see Lovely, Dark and Deep). Apparently, I learned nothing from that encounter.

As I made my way home earlier this week, I crossed the bay and started up the trail across the grassy margin between water and forest, waiting for my next cue and essentially looking within myself. I suddenly became aware of motion in front of me. A cow moose trotted down the beach trail, bisecting my path at alarmingly close proximity. She may not even have seen me; certainly I earned no more than a passing glance some seconds before I became aware of her. I certainly found myself startled out of my monastic contemplation.

Sometime the next day, as I reflected on the moment, I realized that this is calving season for moose. I also remembered that our peninsula offers prime moose nursery environment. As a result, presently our nearest neighbors are large, very nervous and protective mothers with a half ton or so of potential momentum, and large, sharp hooves.

I don’t know why these facts came to me so far into the nursery season. I recently heard my neighbor’s story about his and his wife’s encounter with the rogue cow moose that became so aggressive in our forest that another neighbor shot and killed it a few years ago with the blessing and cooperation of Alaska Fish & Game—a rare occurrence, and a slightly different version of events I described here (see Rogue Moose Taken Down).

I know better than to wear earphones in the forest. A friend got attacked by a moose she surprised while walking on her road while wearing headphones one winter. A woman farther north died when attacked by wild animals (I forget now, whether it was a bear or wolves) while jogging in headphones. It’s certainly not a good idea, particularly for me, commuting through the moose’s nursery forest.

I almost always wear only one side of my earphones while in the woods. I wear both crossing the bay because it helps block the wind from my eardrums, and because—theoretically at least—I can take advantage of a wider field of view. For the duration of the play, I’ll likely keep one ear free at all times, and my eyes and mind focused outward rather than inward. This “monk” is going to stay moose wary!

You can hear our local radio station’s story on the play here. You’ll also see where I got the photo!

6 Responses to “Of Moose and Monks”

  1. Jon Marshall says:

    I am glad the moose did not want to show its strength. Most of the moose I have encountered in my life are more fearful of me than I am of them. I was always taught to watch the ears. I know that is not true most of the time, but when the ears go back I know its time to back off or get out of sight behind something.

    Looking forward to hearing more about your play.

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Jon, that’s the second most common reaction around here, after complete indifference. Unfortunately, like most wild animals, it’s really hard to predict how they’ll respond to people being nearby. It keeps us on our toes, that’s for sure.

    I do watch the ears, and the back hackles. Even so, because of their size, just a dumb, half-curious stare can be unsettling enough!

  3. Jon Marshall says:

    One of my wife’s favorite memories when she could camp before all of her health issues was when she woke up to a little bull moose laying right by her side of the tent. It was putting its nose against her head and sniffing her through the tent. I got up and it just looked at me and went back to half eating, half sleeping.

    I always tell my wife and little girl to be careful and if anything charges, i will put myself between them and whatever it is.

  4. Mark Zeiger says:

    Jon, what a treasurable memory! In his excellent book, Ordinary Wolves, Seth Kantner mentions that bull moose sometimes get lonely, and like a little company. That has not been my experience, but I’ve heard stories like yours, of them being downright sociable with humans if in the right mood.

    My rule of thumb remains cautious optimism around wild animals, or really any animals, particularly of size. I hope and look for moments of magic like yours, but I’ve known plenty of people who have been badly injured by cows and horses, often just by getting stepped on.

    As a lifelong dinosaur lover, I always think of that when herbivorous dinosaurs are characterized as “safe and gentle, like cows!” Rhinoceroses, hippos, and–well, moose-are also herbivores, but one shouldn’t expect to pet or milk them.

    What I find even more intriguing are close and, after the fact, safe encounters with bears. Stories abound in Alaska of bears approaching humans to the point of licking them without doing further harm. There’s an idea that often bears will not hurt women or children, but are much more guarded (wisely) around men. I have not been tempted to test that theory myself.

  5. Jon Marshall says:

    Mark,

    Animals are such a wonderful gift to us. I enjoy the domesticated and the wild, and respect them all the same. I never want to get into their discomfort zone.

    One of my new favorite tv shows is called ALONE and its on the History Channel. The first episode this guy got dropped off at 10:30 or so AM to his area and called it quit 6 hours later because he heard some bears. He let fear overtake his mind and did not rationally think things out. He was a War Veteran from Iraq and Afghanistan and went through things far worse than encountering a bear and his not knowing much about bears and how to interact with them won out.

    I am lucky to have been able to be around wildlife my whole life, seeing them in their element. I am sure you have had some of your preconceived notions on how they act, behave and interact and change when you have seen and encountered them.

    Animals adapt. They change with the circumstances, the seasons, birthing time and so on. Just the same as people.

    How is your preparing for the Play coming along?

  6. Mark Zeiger says:

    Jon, that’s intriguing about the TV show. I wonder what he heard–if it was actually bears? As you probably know well, bears make far less noise than most people think.

    I’ve been around wild animals all my life as well, so I can’t call to mind any preconceived notions that might have changed. All I know is to avoid thinking a particular animal will “always” do this or that. Unpredictability–dare I say it–“wildness” seems to be the only rule!

    Play’s prepped and we’ve performed half the run. The last two performances will be this coming weekend. It’s being very well received. Thanks for asking!

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