I watched the moose drink, lick his lips, scratch himself with his back leg, drink some more, then scratch himself on a tree, a small tree that could have done without a big old moose scratching itself on it, thank you very much.
He was a big moose by Glacier Park standards. Glacier’s moose are the shiras variety — they have smaller antlers than Alaskan moose. He scratched himself some more on the small tree and then started heading up the slope toward the trail.
Right about then four guys in their 20s came around the corner and I expected to hear some hoping and hollering as they encountered or at least saw the moose.
But nothing. Zero.
The guys made it to me and I gave them a look.
“You didn’t see a moose?”
“What moose?” they asked.
“The moose,” I said. “there’s a moose right there.”
Then I pointed down the slope.
The moose was gone.
Well, sort of gone. He was as gone as a moose can get in Glacier. It’s always fun to watch a 1,200 pound gangily legged animal disappear in a couple of steps, and this moose had done just that. It hadn’t done much, really. It just lay down in a patch of willows and began chewing its cud.
All you could see was the paddles of its antlers, and you had to look close to see that.
“He laid down,” I told the group.
They came back for a look-see. The moose could have cared less. He was a good 50 feet below the trail, content.
Such is life in Many Glacier in the fall. The tourist season is over. The hotel is shuttered up for the winter. The campground has gone primitive (no running water) and the nights are cold and the days shorter every day.
It might be the best time of year, if you can put up the fickle weather, which can range from snow squalls and wind to pleasant sun and blue skies (sometimes all in the span of a view minutes.)
The idea of fall journeys into Many is to set up base camp and then hike and be patient. Very few days are a complete bust. You take what comes. One day, it might be a lowly muskrat, who swims to your feed and decides to eat his lunch. Another it might be a 13 mile hike, earmarked by a bull elk in the aspens and a dipper swimming endless laps in a bitterly cold lake. Other days its mountain goats in their winter coats or bighorn sheep chewing their cuds on sun warmed rocks or a wolverine that sniffs its way along the cliffs, looking for an easy meal.
The wolverine is too far away to yield any decent pictures, but still, it’s a wolverine, so big that at first, you thought it was a bear.
One ewe in particular has a lamb that jumps on her back, bites her horn and prods her on. It’s getting dark mom, time to go up higher on the slope, the lamb says. And then you see the tragedy in it. The mother has a badly broken leg, but somehow has been able to forge on, raise a kid, despite the odds against her.
Life persists here, in this raw and nasty and beautiful and forgiving place. Soak up the sun while you can. The wind is coming. Change is a breeze away.
See the entire photo spread in the upcoming issue of Glacier Park Magazine.