(Loosely inspired by a tall and nearly true tale)
Jake rushed through the doorâ€”sweaty and disheveledâ€”to find Al playing solitaire in the main lodge.
â€œAl! I just had a moose encounter,â€ said Jake. â€œUp on Bacon Ridge. It was pretty great, dude. Waitâ€™ll I tell the guys at home about this.â€
â€œWas it sweet and chocolatey?â€
â€œNo, dipshit! Not that kind of moose, with a U! Moose with two Oâ€™s, like Bullwinkle. Huge, with antlers. I just saw one.â€
â€œI 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.â€
â€œJake, youâ€™ve gotta cut that shit out. Weâ€™ll be home in Baltimore at the end of the week, and youâ€™ll still be a dental hygienist. Not John Fucking Wayne.â€
â€œWhatever. 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.â€
â€œAnd youâ€™re sure it was a moose? How do you know? Youâ€™ve never seen a live moose before.â€
Jake looked at him with the same expression he might have if heâ€™d been watching a baboon scratch its balls. â€œAl, Iâ€™ve seen enough â€˜Bullwinkleâ€™ episodes to identify those antlers.â€
â€œYou canâ€™t be serious!â€
â€œHey, whatevs. Dude, trust me, this was a moose.â€
Caleb, the owner of the ranch, entered the lodge then and stopped to hear Jakeâ€™s tale.
â€œSo, 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.â€
â€œSo â€¦ I wanted a closer shot. But I didnâ€™t have a zoom.â€
â€œYup. I moved closer. He (or she; what do I know?) â€¦â€
â€œIf itâ€™s got antlers, itâ€™s a bull moose.â€
â€œRight! 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 â€¦â€
â€œ â€¦ I have trouble trying to visualize your stealth â€¦ â€œ
â€œ … and I took another snap. The moose stopped and turned that big old head and looked straight at me.â€
â€œOy. What did you do?â€ asked Al.
â€œYes, what did you do?â€ asked Caleb, suddenly pondering his insurance liability if a moose were to dismember one of his guests.
â€œI thought it prudent to pause. I mean, consider my situation. A tenderfoot, pinned to the spot, unschooled in the ways of the wild â€¦â€
Caleb snorted, â€œYa think?â€
â€œUh 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.â€
â€œThink he was â€¦ horny?â€ asked Caleb with a sly grin.
â€œVery funny. I did wonder what to do. Freeze in place and hope he wouldnâ€™t see me? Turn and walk quickly down the trail? Run away, screaming for my life?â€
Some of the other guests and cowboys had come back from their ride now and were starting to gather around.
â€œJake,â€ asked Caleb, â€œdid you think that maybe you just might be in danger?â€
â€œI dunno, I wasnâ€™t sure. I recalled what a friend had told me about handling sudden encounters with bears.â€
One of the cowboys chuckled and snarked. â€œYâ€™all get a lot of bears in Baltimore?â€
Jake looked hurt. â€œMy 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 donâ€™t see so good, you know, so heâ€™ll think youâ€™re real darn tall and get scared.â€
â€œYou thought you could frighten a bear, or a moose?â€ Al asked. â€œYouâ€™re really not a scary fella, Jake.â€
â€œI know, right? I clean teeth for a living. I had to admit that this advice didnâ€™t seem prudent. I watched his huge goddamn nostrils twitch and sniff. Seemed curious. And, well, almost friendly.â€
â€œHe was my first moose, and Iâ€™ll bet you I was his first human.â€
â€œAw, thatâ€™s sweet,â€ drawled one of the cowboys. â€œWere yâ€™all able to braid each otherâ€™s hair or check his teeth for plaque?â€
They all cracked up. Jake was the kind of guy who put the â€œdudeâ€ in dude ranch.
â€œThe wind was in my face, blowing from the moose toward me. Perhaps that big fella couldnâ€™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?â€
â€œIâ€™m pretty sure thatâ€™s not a thing. And itâ€™s not that kind of bull,â€ said Al. â€œBut maybe mooses donâ€™t see so good, either.â€
â€œThatâ€™s not the plural form,â€ said Jake.
â€œMooses. The plural of moose is moose, not mooses.â€
â€œThatâ€™s fucking crazy. So the plural of caboose is caboose? What kind of a language is this?â€
â€œIndeed,â€ said Jake.
â€œThe plural of spruce is spruce?â€
â€œThatâ€™s enough, Al! Cool your jets! Iâ€™m anxious enough already â€¦ Whew â€¦ I need a moment to chillax now.â€
Jake closed his eyes and sucked in a deep, cleansing breath as they all waited.
â€œAfter 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.â€
â€œHuh,â€ said Caleb. â€œThatâ€™s a good way to get killed, buddy. Moose arenâ€™t all that cuddly. Mature bulls can run 1500 pounds, maybe more. On a whim, they could charge and stomp you.â€
â€œYeah, well, I wanted a close-up, and I only had a wide-angle lens.â€
â€œAnd we almost had one less guest for dinner,â€ said Caleb, as they all laughed.
Jake persisted. â€œI mean, itâ€™s just a big deer, right?â€
Caleb looked at him, openmouthed and amazed. â€œU-m-m-m â€¦ Y-e-a-h, a really huge fuckinâ€™ deer. But hey, itâ€™s not Bambi. Any moose would eat you if you piss him off.â€
â€œDo they really eat people? I thought they mostly ate rats and vermin.â€
â€œNah,â€ chuckled Caleb. â€œOnly in Baltimore. Out here, theyâ€™re herbivores and theyâ€™re ornery. They eat thistles, not locoweed. And theyâ€™re not mellow.â€
â€œI thought we made a connection.â€
â€œListen, Jake, if you see a moose again, donâ€™t try to make friends. Donâ€™t worry about your stupid pictures. Just get the fuck out of there.â€
â€œOr, remember yâ€™all,â€ said one of the cowboys, â€œThereâ€™s also the Five-Step Solution.â€
â€œWhen you come upon a moose, Jake,â€ said the cowboy, getting in his face. â€œStep 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 mooseâ€™s face, tap him on the nose, and yell nasty stuff at him.â€
â€œOh, Step 5? Bend over and kiss your ass goodbye. But nobody gets to Step 5.â€