(Loosely inspired by a tall and nearly true tale)
Jake rushed through the door, sweaty and disheveled, to find Al playing solitaire in the main lodge.
“Al! I just had a moose encounter,” said Jake. “Up on Bacon Ridge. It was pretty great, dude. Wait’ll I tell the guys at home about this.”
“Was it sweet and chocolatey?”
“No, dipshit! Not that kind of moose, with a U! Moose with two o’s, like Bullwinkle. Huge, with antlers. I just saw one.”
“I grabbed my camera, hiked to the top, then took a few snaps, looking down at the ranch in the fall foliage. It was right purdy, pardner.”
“Jake, you’ve gotta cut that shit out. We’ll be home in Baltimore at the end of the week, and you’ll still be a dental hygienist. Not John Fucking Wayne.”
“Whatever. I blazed a doobie up there, lay in the sun for a while, then began to walk slowly down, through a clearing covered with wildflowers. Then, up ahead, off the trail, I saw movement in the trees. Something big and brown. Large, broad, flat antlers. Lots of points on them.”
“And you’re sure it was a moose? How do you know? You’ve never seen a live moose before.”
Jake looked at him with the same expression he might have if he’d been watching a baboon scratch its balls. “Al, I’ve seen enough ‘Bullwinkle’ episodes to identify those antlers.”
“You can’t be serious!”
“Hey, whatevs. Dude, trust me, this was a moose.”
Caleb, the owner of the ranch, entered the lodge then and stopped to hear Jake’s tale.
“So, Caleb, there I was, not far from this moose. I raised the camera to look at him, but all I had was my wide-angle lens.”
“So … I wanted a closer shot. But I didn’t have a zoom.â”
“Yup. I moved closer. He (or she; what do I know?) …”
“If it’s got antlers, it’s a bull moose.”
“Right! So he continued to move through the trees. I took another picture as he turned away. He was huge. I moved in, stealthily advancing on my tiptoes … ‘
” … I have trouble trying to visualize your stealth … ‘
” … and I took another snap. The moose stopped and turned that big old head and looked straight at me.”
“Oy. What did you do?” asked Al.
“Yes, what did you do?” asked Caleb, suddenly pondering his insurance liability if a moose were to dismember one of his guests.
“I thought it prudent to pause. I mean, consider my situation. A tenderfoot, pinned to the spot, unschooled in the ways of the wild … ”
Caleb snorted, “Ya think?”
“Uh huh! Me, a 250-pound human dressed in red plaid, standing there, as a beast five times my size and bulk took an unwanted interest in me.”
“Think he was … horny?” asked Caleb with a sly grin.
“Very funny. I did wonder what to do. Freeze in place and hope he wouldn’t see me? Turn and walk quickly down the trail? Run away, screaming for my life?”
Some of the other guests and cowboys had come back from their ride now and were starting to gather around.
“Jake,” asked Caleb, “did you think that maybe you just might be in danger?”
“I dunno, I wasn’t sure. I recalled what a friend had told me about handling sudden encounters with bears.”
One of the cowboys chuckled and snarked. “Y’all get a lot of bears in Baltimore?”
Jake looked hurt. “My friend knows things. He said, if I ever come upon a bear on a trail, I should raise my hands above my head, holler at the top of my lungs, and run right at him. Bears don’t see so good, you know, so he’ll think you’re real darn tall and get scared.”
“You thought you could frighten a bear, or a moose?” Al asked. “You’re really not a scary fella, Jake.”
“I know, right? I clean teeth for a living. I had to admit that this advice didn’t seem prudent. I watched his huge goddamn nostrils twitch and sniff. Seemed curious. And, well, almost friendly.”
“He was my first moose, and I’ll bet you I was his first human.”
“Aw, that’s sweet,” drawled one of the cowboys. “Were y’all able to braid each other’s hair or check his teeth for plaque?”
They all cracked up. Jake was the kind of guy who put the “dude” in dude ranch.
“The wind was in my face, blowing from the moose toward me. Perhaps that big fella couldn’t smell me. But how could he miss my red checked hat and jacket, designed to convince other hunters that I was not a deer? I mean, everyone knows that red enrages bulls, right?”
“I’m pretty sure that’s not a thing. And it’s not that kind of bull,” said Al. “But maybe mooses don’t see so good, either.”
“That’s not the plural form,” said Jake.
“Mooses. The plural of moose is moose, not mooses.”
“That’s fucking crazy. So the plural of caboose is caboose? What kind of a language is this?”
“Indeed,” said Jake.
“The plural of spruce is spruce?”
“That’s enough, Al! Cool your jets! I’m anxious enough already! Whew! I need a moment to chillax now.”
Jake closed his eyes and sucked in a deep, cleansing breath as they all waited.
“After a few long seconds, the moose trotted off. I grabbed a last snap of his moose butt disappearing behind the trees, then I stumble-ran down the trail to the ranch. And here we are.”
“Huh,” said Caleb. “That’s a good way to get killed, buddy. Moose aren’t all that cuddly. Mature bulls can run 1500 pounds, maybe more. On a whim, they could charge and stomp you.”
“Yeah, well, I wanted a close-up, and I only had a wide-angle lens.”
“And we almost had one less guest for dinner,” said Caleb, as they all laughed.
Jake persisted. “I mean, it’s just a big deer, right?”
Caleb looked at him, openmouthed and amazed. “U-m-m-m … Y-e-a-h, a really huge fuckin’ deer. But hey, it’s not Bambi. Any moose would eat you if you piss him off.”
“Do they really eat people? I thought they mostly ate rats and vermin.”
“Nah,” chuckled Caleb. “Only in Baltimore. Out here, they’re herbivores and they’re ornery. They eat thistles, not locoweed. And they’re not mellow.”
“I thought we made a connection.”
“Listen, Jake, if you see a moose again, don’t try to make friends. Don’t worry about your stupid pictures. Just get the fuck out of there.”
“Or, remember y’all,” said one of the cowboys, “There’s also the Five-Step Solution.”
“When you come upon a moose, Jake,” said the cowboy, getting in his face. “Step 1: Get as close as you can, like this, and stare him down. Step 2: Move slowly around the moose, maintaining eye contact, till you find a large log. Step 3: Sit on the log and spread your legs. Step 4: Wave your red hat in the moose’s face, tap him on the nose, and yell nasty stuff at him.”
“Oh, Step 5? Bend over and kiss your ass goodbye. But nobody gets to Step 5.”