One morning this fall, I woke up to a moose in my yard. This is a fairly common occurrence in Alaska. Even in the metropolitan area of Anchorage you can easily find a moose blocking your morning commute any day of the week.
Back in September, our neighbor down the road phoned one evening to let us know she had a bull moose in her yard. (That explained why my dogs had been barking.) So I wasn’t surprised to find the moose in my yard the following morning. What did surprise me, however, was the valuable lesson the moose so thoughtfully came by to offer me.
An advice offering Moose, you say? If the image of Bullwinkle just popped into your head, you’re not too far off the mark. When you live long enough in close proximity to the wilderness, you become aware that nature is not indifferent to you. To make matters more interesting, you eventually learn that she has a great sense of humor and I’ve found it beneficial to laugh with her, or better yet, at yourself when she makes you the butt of one of her jokes. If you choose to pay attention, you will see that she isn’t just toying with you, she is trying to teach you something. This is what I realized the morning Bullwinkle walked into our farm – I was the butt of a good joke and inside that joke there was a valuable takeaway.
A cup of joe and a bull moose.
The dogs had been barking when I went to sleep the night before. They were still barking when I woke up. When you live with livestock guardian dogs, you get used to sleeping through the racket. Once I had gotten up, lit the fire and slid back into bed with a hot cup of coffee, I heard the barking escalate. I figured the moose must have migrated over from the neighbor’s.
I hopped back up, padded over to the big windows overlooking our front yard and, sure enough, there he was, a young bull moose. He was long legged, dark like my morning coffee, sleek and healthy. He was gorgeous. “Not to worry,” I thought, “the dogs will run him off shortly.”
So I watched from the comfort of the cabin the interaction play out between this self-assured visitor and my not so certain guard dogs. You see, the moose is a bit of a conundrum for the livestock guardian. Most of the livestock guardian breeds have been molded over millennia to protect prey from predators.
What is the dog supposed to do when the “predator” smells like the thing they are programmed to protect? Not to mention, they’d have to take a flying leap just to go for the jugular. If you know anything about moose, you know this maneuver will not end well for the dog. They know it too.
My husband and I have been working with livestock guardian dogs for the past nine years. In that time, we have had several bears and wolves come onto our farm. We have witnessed firsthand the certainty and dedication of the livestock guardian when confronted with a predator that significantly outweighs and outpowers them. They work as a team, using confidence, cooperation and agility to their advantage.
Even when outnumbered by a pack of wolves lurking in the surrounding forest, the livestock guardian engages with intent and will give its life in battle if necessary. It is the main reason a livestock guardian’s life expectancy is relatively short.
But a moose seems to reside in this grey area between nuisance and potential perpetrator. Any thread of cohesion is lost as each dog seems to have his or her own take on the situation. We have three livestock guardians and each one chose differently what to make of our visitor that morning.
Meet the A-Team.
Shhh, don’t tell the other two, but Miyagi is my favorite. Besides being a top quality working animal, he has limitless affection for my children. Miyagi is our male Maremma. The Maremma is a 2000 year old livestock guardian breed from Italy.
That morning, Miyagi wisely chose not to participate. He stayed up on the hill behind the house observing the scene without too much to add to the conversation. I got the sense he didn’t give a rat’s patootie about the moose. Heck, he was just getting off work (guard dogs perform most of their duties in the night) and he wasn’t about to put in overtime if it wasn’t necessary.
Freya, Miyagi’s mother, was keeping a close eye on the situation. She flitted about between the moose and our fenced yard, drawing her line in the sand from a safe distance and yapping like a frustrated mother at the end of her rope, “All right, that’s enough! Don’t make me come over there!” The moose didn’t seem to hear her. He certainly didn’t seem to care. He was distracted by Fezzik, who was buzzing around him like a pesky horsefly.
Fezzik is our younger male. He is a two year old Spanish Mastiff weighing in around 120 lbs. He is intense, to say the least. You don’t want to mess with Fezzik.
Fezzik took personal offense to the overgrown ungulate invading his territory and was determined to move the fellow on out of Dodge. Our full grown Mastiff looked minuscule in the shadow of this towering beast. Regardless of his bravado, Fezzik could not hide the fact that he was out-matched and he knew it. But bless him for staying in there. Fezzik repeatedly pushed the limits forcing the moose to charge. This sent Fezzik running off, tail between his legs. He retreated just long enough to regain his composure before he was right back at it again.
The moose, when he wasn’t provoked into charging, oozed confidence and calm. He walked in as if he owned the place. Regardless of Fezzik’s efforts to scare him off, the moose moved in closer.
You might be wondering at this point where my husband was during all of this. Unfortunately, he was out of town. My two boys were still sound asleep. I continued to watch from the window, realizing this moose was not going to be deterred by our dogs and my mind began to shift from being pleasantly entertained to irritably worried.
This wasn’t my first moose rodeo.
Many years ago, back before we had farm animals and guard dogs, a cow moose showed up in our field and stuck around way too long. We had a racing team of about 16 sled dogs all living within the fenced yard around the house and all of them were frantically barking which created one heck of a racket. Yet the cow moose chose to loiter just outside the fence regardless of all the noise. She became a problem. We could no longer safely maneuver outside the yard.
We tried to run her off by letting all the dogs loose. The dogs thought this was good sport and made a run at her. She responded aggressively, rack swinging wildly, her back arching and rear legs kicking out like a bucking bronco. The dogs wisely scattered. It was no use, so we put the dogs back in the yard.
She hung out all damn day and became progressively agitated by the barking. One of the dogs was hounding her from inside the fence so she charged the dog head on, turned broadside at the last minute and rammed the fence with her body. Luckily it was a brand new fence, burly enough to withstand the force of an 800 lb. moose slamming into it at a run.
Jeremy took the next logical step and brought out the shotgun. He hit her in the rear end with birdshot hoping the sting would run her off. The only thing this accomplished was increasing her agitation. We ascertained that whatever she was trying to get away from out there in the woods was far more scary than hanging around our noisy dogs with a burning rump to boot.
We wanted to have compassion for her situation. The last thing we wanted to do was kill this moose. But she had become a serious hazard for us and if she refused to leave we would have no choice. It was getting late in the day, so we decided to sleep on it. If she was still with us in the morning her fate would be decided.
As if she knew what we were thinking, by morning she was gone. This wasn’t the only time over the course of our fourteen years out here on the farm I felt as if the wildlife could read my mind.
So it was with this bull moose doing the tango with Fezzik. As I watched this young bull just outside my fence, calm in the face of my 120 lb. very aggressive mastiff, I began to worry about how this was going to screw up my day and I swear that moose was reading my mind.
Creation was having a laugh at my expense.
Right at that moment something caught the moose’s attention – a stack of hay. He walked right up to it and started playing with it. I had everything I needed within the fence to carry on with my day except for that hay. I needed that hay to feed to my goats. If I didn’t get that hay to my goats by mid-morning, I was going to have some very pissed off, mouthy animals yelling at me to do something about it. If you’ve ever been hollered at by a goat, you might understand the severity of my situation. (Think nails on a chalkboard.)
After pawing at the hay for a bit, the moose got his nose down in it and began to sniff. I was now convinced he was about to discover an easy, free meal and never leave. He continued to paw at it and strew it about but he wasn’t interested in eating it. Not once did he take a bite.
No, he was toying with me is what he was doing. If this Bullwinkle had a cartoon bubble over his head, he would have been saying, “Oh, I know. I’ll make the silly little human watching me from the window freak out over her hay pile. That’ll be fun.”
By now the kids were up. I consulted with my very capable 12 year old, Bjorn. We discussed the predicament regarding the hay. Bjorn offered to show me how to load bird shot into the shotgun, which I had not fired in over ten years. Picking up the shotgun was my least favorite option but I knew that if the moose didn’t vacate by the time the goat’s cries for food became unbearable, I was going to have to try something, even though past experience told me birdshot was a long shot.
Then it happened. I recognized the worry trap I was headed into. This has been one of my hardest and most important lessons to learn out here on the farm – not to get stuck in the worry trap. I liken the worry trap to getting caught in a multi-lane roundabout during rush hour for the first time in your life. It’s frantic, exhausting and, once you’re in there, it’s very difficult to get off.
There are more things out here to worry about than you can shake a stick at. I’ve spent many long hours wasting precious time and energy worrying. I can’t tell you how many times I worked myself up into useless worry when Jeremy was late coming home, wondering if he’d broken through the river ice or been mauled by a grizzly bear…you know…the usual concerns of the modern day housewife.
I’ve learned, painstakingly slow, but learned I have, that worry is worse than a waste of time; it is an energy suck. Let me say that again in case you missed it.
WORRY IS WORSE THAN A WASTE OF TIME. IT IS THE ULTIMATE ENERGY SUCK.
This principle is universal. Whether a Bullwinkle just showed up to ruin your day, you’re running late getting to an important meeting or you’re awaiting test results in a doctor’s office, it doesn’t matter, worrying over the outcome is worse than useless, it’s damaging. Worrying about the outcome cannot change the end result.
Choosing not to worry, however, will improve the outcome. It may not change the outcome but it will allow you to deal with negative outcomes from a more centered place. I heard it said once that worrying is living a negative experience twice, you experience it before it even happens and again when it does. Sounds kinda insane, doesn’t it? And yet, we do it all the time.
What if this person never leaves? What if I lose this deal for showing up late and get fired? What if my test results reveal something really bad?
“What ifs” aren’t real, they are just a construct of our mind, but they quickly begin to feel real. They become the on-ramps to the roundabout. In the roundabout you start answering those “what ifs”, imagining all the negative outcomes that will befall upon you and make your life miserable. I know you know what I’m talking about, we’ve all been there.
Watching the moose from my window, I found myself careening down Apprehension Avenue towards a nasty roundabout with no off ramp. What if he stays all day, eating my hay? What if Fezzik gets too close and takes a hoof upside the head? What if this moose decides to break through my rickety front gate, taking up residence in my front yard, making it impossible to access the outhouse? That’s a real problem!
Thank goodness I saw it coming before it was too late. I shifted gears and took a hard right onto what turned out to be a scenic byway.
That’s all it takes – awareness and a choice. I know, I know…it is not as easy as it sounds. We are all programmed to stay within our subconscious grooves. This is why awareness comes first and it does takes a bit of work to retrain yourself to pay attention; but it can be done. Once you have awareness, you have granted yourself the gift of choice.
I chose not to worry. I got verbal about it too. I said to the kids, “It’s going to be fine. He’s going to leave. This won’t be a problem,” and I went back to enjoying the show. I even ran out in my PJs to grab a quick video, then went about my morning as if he wasn’t there.
Sure enough, ten minutes later the moose walked off into the woods. Five minutes later the dogs quieted down. I knew he was gone. I thought to myself, “See? Nothing to worry about.” That’s usually the case, isn’t it?
Don’t worry…..be happy.
I awoke the following morning to the same, agitated barking and knew he was back. I got up to take a look.
Fezzik danced around like a horsefly while the bull casually walked in, straight to the hay pile and proceeded to make a mess. He lowered his rack into the pile, got a tangled heap of it caught up in his antlers and when he raised his head he looked as if he were wearing a comically oversized wig riding low across his brow, the Ringo Star of the animal kingdom. He calmly stood there donning his wig as if he were enjoying his new look.
I laughed out loud.
As I watched my new friend from my window I had the sneaky suspicion he had come back for the sole purpose of humoring me. Creation attempted to have a laugh at my expense the previous morning and I like to think she was pleased with the way I handled myself. The moose stayed for about five minutes and then, ever so coolly, went on his way. I couldn’t help but feel as if Creation was patting me on the head, and in the infamous words of Shrek, an honored hero in this household, “That’ll do little donkey. That’ll do.”
Thanks for reading. I would love to receive your comments and questions. And remember, stay off the worry roundabouts, they suck.
Warmest regards from the Homestead,
1 photo credit: z5 <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/51556967@N00/1525907295″>The neighbors are back in town…</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>