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Of moose and man

An early test of our vows to stick by each other arrived in Canada’s wilds.

A bull moose munches on a mountain ash tree in East Anchorage, Alaska.
Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News/AP/File
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Caption
  • Dara Dokas

The young moose wasn’t that big. Really, it was only a teenage moose. But the mama moose was big. She was like a giant refrigerator on legs. Her son was just a gangling guy, certainly not such a threat that my brand-new husband would abandon our recently expressed vows and desert me at the first sign of trouble.

But that’s what happened. My husband and I had been married for three days. We were honeymooning in the Canadian Rockies. It was gorgeous, if not a little chilly, that August. There were ice fields, jagged mountains, roaring rivers, and plenty of wildlife. We saw bighorn sheep, bears, elk, even a marmot or two. We even hiked a trail in grizzly country, singing and shouting the whole time. (Being loud seems counterintuitive in the quiet, pristine wilderness. But if you want to avoid startling an irascible grizzly, you make lots of noise.)

There we were, newlyweds who had braved elk and marmots, crevasses, potential grizzly attacks, and goofy Canadian waiters. We were in this adventure of honeymooning – and of life – together. 

Then came the moose. 

It had started out as a casual hike through the woods. We approached a large pond, and there stood two moose – mama and son pulling weeds from the bottom of the lake. We froze and stared. Mama munched away, but the son looked a bit agitated by visitors. In retrospect, this should have been my warning: Don’t mess with a moose! 

But I didn’t heed the signs. I wanted a picture. You bet I did. And it had to be a close-up.

“Let’s go closer,” I whispered to my new mate, confident that the man I was certain would follow me to the depths of hell and back would readily accompany me as I got closer to a moose. And indeed he did. As we walked closer, I readied my camera.

Suddenly, it was clear we’d gotten too close. We’d crossed an invisible line. Boy moose bolted! Moose are even bigger at a gallop, and this one was galloping right at us!

Adrenaline kicking in, I scrambled behind the nearest tree, snapping photos as I scurried. Boy moose galloped within a few feet of me and then was gone, off into the underbrush.

Mama moose kept munching weeds. Apparently, she was quite hungry. But just in case, I thought it wise to retreat. You know, that whole “mother animals and their babies” thing. 

And I had already gotten a photo or two. 

Excited, I turned to my husband to tell him I had actually gotten a picture of the running moose. But my husband was no longer there. I was alone. When I squinted into the distance, I could just see him, way down the trail, hurdling bushes like an Olympian, running away from me, his new bride. My husband of three days, the one who’d promised to stick with me through thick or thin, had just ditched me at the first sign of trouble. 

I ran after him, finally catching up to him at the trailhead.

“You abandoned me!” I said. “You left me alone with a wild moose!” Still breathing heavily, all he could say was, “I thought you were right behind me.” 

“Well, I wasn’t, and apparently you didn’t stop long enough to make sure I was,” I replied accusingly. 

That was our first argument as a married couple. Now the honeymoon is over and – despite the moose affair – we’re still married 20 years later. 

How do you measure love? Can it only be demonstrated by how brave you are in the face of danger, even when it involves wild animals? Maybe love is shown in the little things as well as the big. A kiss, a thank-you, a packed lunch with a smiley face on the bag. These are small things that say, “I love you.” And the big things, like sticking with me when I decide to quit teaching to pursue another career. Or like saying OK when I want yet another pet – that’s love, too. 

But despite how much I know he loves me and how committed he is to the whole “through thick or thin” part of marriage, I also know that if we ever meet another rampaging moose, he will probably ditch me again. I will be on my own. That is, unless I choose to run right beside him.

Editor’s note: Not to take sides, but the firm policy of the US Forest Service is that visitors should give moose a wide berth.

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