When that sudden unfamiliar sound came from the front yard, I didn't think anything of it at first.
This languid afternoon was just sultry enough for the ocean's salt to linger in the air. On the roof, several sea gulls were holding a reunion. Earlier, a couple had been strutting on the front lawn. One big bird had even swooped down and landed in the middle of the road. It had just stood there, looking from right to left, as if planning to hitch a ride from the next passing car from whichever direction it might come.
Enjoying the gentle breeze coming through the front door, the cat sprawled on her window seat, watching the road for anything of interest. This was the time when our friend Lisa usually jogs by, or Arthur walks his two dobermans, or that white cat comes to snuggle by the stone fence and hope for chipmunks to emerge. (It doesn't do him any good. They know his game now.)
This bucolic scene was accompanied, as it often is, by the one-note droning of my neighbor's lawn mower. (Riding a lawn mower must be the second or third most-popular activity in Maine.)
That strange sound came from the front yard again, this time very near my open door. The lawn mower stopped abruptly.
There was an emphatic silence. Unfamiliar noise is one thing, but unfamiliar silence is another. Warily I approached the screen door.
Not knowing what to expect, I was startled and shaken by the sight of a very large animal in my front yard. "What on earth is a horse doing in...?"
But it wasn't a horse. I stared, but I wasn't sure whether to believe what I saw. There, not six feet away from me, was a moose! A very real, live moose.
It was a moose, all right. I knew, because I've seen moose photographs, moose silhouettes on notepaper, moose paperweights, and even my own moose return-address stickers. There was no doubt about it. This was a moose.
Just then, a car rounding the curve came to an abrupt stop in front of my house. The people inside gawked from the windows, but at least they knew enough to be quiet.
The moose was gigantic. Magnificent. Standing stock still with antlered head held high, he surveyed the territory like a land developer.
There went the cat. She took one look out the front door and, without pausing for details, fled from the living room, grumbling, her belly hugging the floor.
In the car there was a flurry of activity as the occupants jammed cameras up against the windows. In the meantime, the moose had suddenly shifted his gaze toward my neighbor's land on the right and was staring at it intently.
Flattening my cheek against the screen door, I tried to make out what he was looking at. The people in the car were pointing in that direction.
I drew back from the screen with a gasp. It was another moose! My neighbor, whom I could just about see, was riveted to his mower, trying not to be noticed.
The second moose was an imposing specimen of moose ladyhood. She was beautiful.
So there I was, with two moose in my front yard, and I couldn't leave the screen door long enough to get my camera!
There it was again - that noise we'd heard before.
It came from the big moose. I didn't know what an official moose call was like - I'd never heard one - but he was saying something that sounded like, "Ah - hmmm, mmmm" in a very slow, descending scale.
For several moments, I was simply awed by this incredible presence in my front yard. Everything had turned very quiet.
Then I got that urge that becomes too great to hold back, one of those emotional temptations that defy common sense and toss caution aside. Not knowing what might ensue, I pressed my face hard against the screen and moaned, in as deep a voice as possible: "Ah - hmmm, mmmm" in a very slow, descending scale.
The big fellow barely moved his head. Then he turned slightly and said, "Ah - hmmm, mmmm."
Wow! I'd talked to a moose and he'd answered me!
Then, alas, I saw that his call was not directed toward me at all, but to his female companion. She had been eyeing my neighbor, who wisely stayed glued to his mower.
In answer to the big moose's call, the female turned and moved hesitantly, and then in a stately fashion, walked across the lawn and right up to him.
There was so little time to study these two huge, majestic creatures. I wanted to remember how they stood, how they moved, what they sounded like. The presence of two animals that few people ever see is a rare privilege, a communication and a bond with nature. I wanted to remember every detail.
For a while longer they stood there, quietly posing for my memory. Then, as if on cue, as if to bring a satisfying conclusion to a scene already full for a rapt audience, the two giants turned and strolled off together toward the meadow. For some minutes more we observed them.
At the end of the meadow, they stopped, had a look around, and vanished into the woods.
The car started up, but it sat there while the people took a few minutes to savor the unexpected treat.
As they drove away, we waved. We'd been brought together, if only briefly, by a special event.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor