An Evening Walk with a Surprise Encounter...
You never know what (or who) you're going to see when you go out for an evening walk!
A couple of nights ago I just had to get out to go for a jaunt; always staying safe with the locals, but by golly, if it doesn't feel good to stretch the legs for an hour.
My usual route takes me up to the north area of Stettler then down to the main road that is Highway 12... and across the canal a couple of times. There are some good walking paths in town to utilize!
That evening I sure got a surprise. Most animals that I see on my route are birds--crows, ravens, magpies, American Robins, house finches, chickadees, and the odd New World sparrow--but this critter that made a guest appearance was a lot larger.
Like, a LOT larger.
As soon as I saw her, I knew what she was... and yet I didn't if that makes any sense. Sometimes it takes a few seconds for the brain to register what a person's looking at... especially when they come when they're least expected.
I saw this dark shape just on the other side of the fence and two things crossed my mind before I realized what it (she) was; A bovine? No, never been cattle there for years (as far as I know). A big rock? How could there be a big rock there where there's never been on all the times I've gone by there. I gave myself a mental head-shake.
Bigfoot? Um... no.
Right then her head came up and I saw her ears perked up at me with interest as she was munching away; her attitude more attentiveness than fear. And then it dawned on me.
My own feeling at that moment wasn't fear. I was slightly worried, but it wasn't where I was immediately thinking about all the negative "what if"'s... it was more about what was in my present situation, and what is the best thing I can do to keep me safe, but also not get that big cow amped up either. I wanted to come away happy with something to brag about, and her to be peacefully doing her thing that moose always do.
You guessed right: I came across a big cow moose!
So, right then, because I wanted to continue my walk (and I honestly didn't feel like going back where I came from), I was faced with a couple of choices:
For one, the path that I was on crossed the residential road to the other side; the other side, being right past that big ol' gal standing there enjoying her evening snack.
For another, the other side of the road was as safe as anything to continue my walk on. No traffic, super quiet, and much safer. Plus, it seemed like a safe distance from Ms. Moose.
(A third choice was to turn around and go back from whence I came, but as I mentioned, I didn't feel the need to.)
Naturally, I choose the second option.
Before I continued, though, I quickly assessed the situation--the situation being the largest North American cervid that was just on the other side of that fence.
I had absolutely no idea if she had a new baby calf with her that was out of sight; I didn't know if she was completely alone either. I had to figure on the worst-case scenario, being momma with a calf to protect.
But that wasn't more important than her body language. Were her ears laid back at me, or pointed forward? Head-shaking? Foot-stomping? All those boxes didn't need to be filled. Good!
Honestly, folks, I would be a lot more worried if she had her ears pinned back and started stomping her foot at me. Any of you who encounter a moose in a similar manner as I did would be as well!
(I think if she did give me a bit of attitude at the distance I was at and with her being across the fence, I would've definitely gone back the way I came. In this particular case though...)
One more thing: even though she was on the other side of the fence, it would be nothing for her to hop over it to get to me (if she had the inclination to). If you've ever seen a moose pop over something that was chest height to most of us, you'd know that a fence like that in the photo above is just a minor obstacle to a big gal like her!
The final "issue" was eye contact. Not only did I have to keep an eye on her and make a very quick assessment of her body language, but I also could not maintain eye contact for more than a second. To a moose, eye contact means issuing a challenge. And a meeting of said challenge, be that coming from a moose towards a puny human (inadvertent Hulk reference here, apologies), is not a good thing!
So for me, making few quick glances at her was the best I could do at the time.
I also like to talk quietly to most animals. Don't ask why; it's a habit I've had since I was little.
"Hey, big girl, just walking on by," I said to her quietly, as I maintained my distance on the other side from her.
She studied me for a second, then pointed her nose up at a twig of freshly sprouting willow buds and bit off a little mouthful.
She kept her eye on me--likewise with me of course--but seemed more interested in her food. My phone was out, snapping a few photos as I continued down the road right past her.
"Good girl," I said quietly.
I left her to continue enjoying her evening meal in peace; that left me happy for the surprise encounter, and with a few photos to brag about.
Looking back, had I continued to the other path, I know I would've gotten a bit of attitude from her due to my poor choice, and not her being there at the wrong place at the wrong time. My gut instinct to keep a safe distance meant happy me, and happy moose.
What always amazes me is the difference in behaviour in such encounters between moose versus deer; Deer are always super-skittish and dart away as soon as they see or smell any two-legged mammal that doesn't sound, smell, nor look like them. Moose, though? They know they're big and tough, and usually don't feel like they need to run off unless they feel have to. But if they have to stand their ground, by golly will they ever!
I may be wrong on that assessment but my point is this: moose deserve much respect and a wide berth when you happen to encounter one; especially when you're alone and on foot. It doesn't matter if it's a big bull on (or off) the rut, a cow with a calf (or two) to protect, or a lone beastie enjoying a feast of pussy willows and aspen buds.
Nature is awesome, and beautiful, especially when it comes in the form of something like a big ol' moose!