Something about the brush pile
thirty yards ahead beside the two-
track through the aspen grove,
something too dark, too dense, as
if the glance of a witch
in wait—something out of place.
I whispered the dogs to sit and stay
and held my hand, palm
down, between them to
give my command more weight.
My first thought, always, was of bear. I’ve
followed the trail of ripped-open
sheepskins, scattered like
piles of bloody popcorn, when
the Basque herders bring
their flocks down from the
in this late part of summer.
We waited, and the obscure shape
swayed, though not as if in wind.
There was no wind,
only caution becoming fear as
whatever it was rocked
back and forth four times,
building momentum to rise like
a mountain through geologic time, its
murky ridges spreading high against
the pale green of the aspens with
branches of its own, more massive
than these slender trees could bear,
and under them,
two black-silver beads, in sunlight blacker
than the darkness they shone out of, sensing
something about our being there.
I felt the dogs quiver, or
maybe it was me.
I wondered how the moose might
see us, three frozen beings
pretending to be small trees or
shrubs, pretending not to breathe,
waiting for him to decide
if we were a threat worth
being threatened by.
I thought of our neighbor, the blacksmith,
Johnny Reddan, stomped to death
the summer before, out for a
short walk after supper, told
his wife he’d be back before dark.
They found his body the following noon,
a cow with calves, the ranger
said, it must have been a cow.
I heard an airplane sounding
angry above the trees. Then
it relented to a hard-edged hum and
hummed on for several minutes, it seemed.
I heard the kyrie of a red-tailed hawk
and wondered what she might be
seeing of our standoff in
this rivery break of
ranch road through the trees.
Two years before, a herd of
thirteen moose, five cows
and eight lumbering bulls,
spent an idle Christmas on our
snow-covered lawn, rubbing
on the clapboards of the house, nudging
the drift boat on its trailer, locking
antlers, aimlessly pushing each other
around, with no agenda. It seemed
so safe, with the solid walls
around us, smiling at
the mangy pelts and
homely mugs, that docile
consciousness at play.
Time was all around us now, meaning
one more siphoned breath of
the air the moose was breathing too.
I wondered if he could smell us—nothing
A fly buzzed by my ear.
Was the bull waiting
for us to break the spell?
His mooseness was implacable,
the light behind him from the trees.
Eight miles south in the town of Driggs,
Deb was at the Safeway for tomatoes,
lettuce, bacon, and bread, expecting
I’d be home for lunch.
The dogs were so still I almost
forgot them, their noses locked
on the moose like
pointers on a grouse.
I scanned the grove for a
gap between two slender trunks,
just wide enough for me.
And then there was a breeze.
The grass heads nodded. A
sudden flutter through the
breath was all, as
tentative as our own. It seemed
enough to move the scene.
The bull swayed again
and swung himself one step into the forest
and then another. We heard
dry branches whisper and snap
as he plowed his way,
a primeval wave of midday
darkness through the fragile trees.
The dogs stayed close on my heels
the last quarter mile through the aspens
till the track opened out onto a prairie
of scrubby sage and yellow arrowroot.