I used to think moose hardly belonged in the same family as deer, elk, and other graceful Cervidae of the forest. The only moose I'd ever seen were on TV news: the occasional lost animal that wandered down from the mountains and stumbled through the asphalt and brick city surroundings, searching clumsily for a way home.
Their legs never seemed big enough for their bodies, and their antlers and big noses made them appear so top-heavy I wondered why they didn't tip over on their faces when they stood still. Even their name is awkward. You have one moose or 10 moose. Why not 10 mooses or 10 meese? Nothing about them seemed to have any grace to it.
Then I worked for a summer at Jackson Hole resort in Wyoming and met one in person, sort of, although we were never formally introduced.
I lived in the employee dorm at Jenny Lake and spent six days a week cleaning rooms, doing laundry, and directing guests to the cabin sites. But one day a week we were free to do as we liked, and it more than made up for all the work.
There were hikes, trips to nearby Yellowstone National Park, river trips, nature trails, and wildlife all over the place to watch.
On one of my free days, I decided on a solitary journey. Packing a lunch and a book on wildflowers, I chose the most obscure trail from the camp and headed into the trees. Walking as quietly as possible, I was able to listen for sudden, small rustlings that gave away the activity of a chipmunk or squirrel. I sometimes consulted my book to learn the official names of the flowers I had already given my own nicknames. The ones I had called "little purple droopies" were identified as "nodding onions." The bright yellow, six-petal summer stars were actually Western fawn lily.
By noon, I knew a few more flowers by name, and had reached a lake too obscure to have a name on the tourist maps. I plopped down on the grass by the trail and took out my lunch.
Soon I became aware of something moving on the lake. It glided through the water like a canoe, but I soon realized it was a moose, his legs underwater. He looked like a swan floating smoothly along the surface as he moved past me on the opposite side.
We'd been told what to do about bears, but nobody had said anything about moose. Were they mean? Territorial?
Somehow I didn't think I should try to walk up to him with a handful of grass.
I sat still and watched as he kept near the shore on the other side of the lake. He certainly didn't seem shy or fragile like the deer I often spotted along the trail. And he wasn't gawky like his poor cousins trapped in the city. He moved regally in his own kingdom.
He stopped near some water lilies and glanced around until he saw me. For a moment, we simply stared at each other. Then he turned and began munching on the lilies. I took another bite of my sandwich.
We continued our lunch like two strangers in a restaurant, not dining together, but still feeling less alone because of each other's presence. He glanced at me occasionally, and I rudely continued to stare at him while pretending to look in nearby directions.
Eventually, he raised his head and looked down the trail behind me. Then he turned and glided toward the far shore. Rising slowly and smoothly from the water, he strode with dignity toward the trees, his thin legs somehow appearing compact instead of stringy. He paused at the edge of the trees and looked back toward me.
I heard faint shouts and laughter from behind me on the trail, and turned to see a group of Boy Scouts boisterously clambering up toward the lake.
When I turned back around, my dinner companion was disappearing gracefully into the trees. Lunch hour was over.