Of moose and men

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A moose feeds at dusk as snow falls.

For a few glorious days last week it got cold enough to set the snowpack into a rock, which meant that we could hike on top it, without snowshoes or skis.

I like to ski, but it’s difficult to carry a camera and 400 mm lens on your shoulder and ski at the same time, so more often than not, I settle for snowshoes, which free up your hands.

But snowshoes are noisy and clunky and generally not a lot of fun to wear. They’re the necessary evil of the winter months.

But like I said, the snowpack cooled off and turned hard, so we could walk on it. It was the sort of snow that the Indians centuries ago would wait for so they could cross the Divide at Logan Pass and hunt buffalo at St. Mary Lake.

The boy and I weren’t hunting buffalo, we were simply going for our evening walk, which I figure we do about 200 times a year in Glacier National Park or the nearby wilderness. It is an aspect of my life I never take for granted. If I’m away from the woods for more than a few days I grow melancholy and begin to take the world around me, with it’s pettiness, spite and materialism far too seriously.

After an hour in the woods what seemed important is important no more and the mind is washed clean of lament.

March is one of my favorite months in the Park. The crowds are light to nonexistent and if you do run into someone on the trail it’s usually a friend. On the cool wet days the first varied thrush begin to sing — the long, drawn out notes coaxing the spring to come.

The days are growing longer as they pass and the additional light does not go unnoticed. Yes, there are still snowstorms and violent weather, but when the sun shines, it is noticeably warmer and brighter than it was just a couple of months before.

On one particular evening last week a steady snow was falling and as darkness slunk down we watched a cow moose in the distance, gnawing the ends off the red osier dogwood as the snow built on her back.

She was a good looking beast, as good looking as a moose can be, and she had a healthy woolly yearling calf with her.

As we watched the moose a great horned owl called from the hill in front of us and then another called from behind us, tucked back in the woods and then a third called down the way.

It was a melody of whoos, owl notes of love. The big birds nest early in the spring — it takes a long time to raise an owl chick to fruition.

The snow hissed through the trees. The owls called back and forth. And the moose laid down, listening to the calls as she chewed her cud as the worries of the world melted away.

Chris Peterson is the editor of the Hungry Horse News.

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