88. The Granddaddy

88. The Granddaddy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

The Granddaddy

I feel like a Bull Moose.
 ~Theodore Roosevelt

I can’t believe I’m in Alaska! I’m running the Campbell Creek Greenbelt, my steps as light as my heart. The paved trail snakes through woods of swamp spruce and birch. The air is fresh from a light morning rain, with temperatures in the upper 60s, warm for June. Birds chirp high overhead. How good can life get?

I’m visiting a friend for a week, and he’s dropped me off to run this gorgeous trail while he works at his office. I’m hoping to add to the list of wildlife I’ve seen so far: the mountain sheep my friend and I spotted on a hillside on the road from Anchorage to Portage Glacier, a bald eagle that soared above us as we hiked the Coastal Trail, king and silver salmon we saw fishermen catch as they stood shoulder to shoulder along the bank of Ship Creek in downtown Anchorage.

Today I’m hoping to see a moose. Sometimes, I’m told, one can look across meadows and see the females, called cows, grazing. The term “cow” delights me. I’m sure they’ll look nothing like the herds of dairy cows I pass on runs in rural areas of Oregon. I’m told the cows seldom venture close to the trail, and aren’t aggressive unless someone gets between one of them and her baby; that Bull Moose are never seen on the trail.

Sounds good to me; interesting, but safe.

High with the thrill of it all, I round a corner and almost into the side of a moose. Not a female across a meadow. A huge Bull Moose standing where the woods open into a grassy space. My nose is at most two feet from his enormous side.

I freeze. My chest constricts. My heart beats triple time. What happened to safe?

Seconds pass. The moose doesn’t twitch a muscle. Could it be a statue? I see no movement of breath. Whew. I might have known. The beast is too big, the rack too broad to be real. I’ve seen moose heads mounted on stone fireplaces in lodges and they aren’t nearly as huge as this one. It makes sense to have a statue of the state animal of Alaska in this park, along a trail dozens of people use daily. Ah well, a statue of a moose is better than no moose at all.

The sculptor has done an amazing job. I can almost see the individual hairs on the giant body. My heart rate slowing, I reach my hand out to touch the animal’s metal side.

The statue turns its head toward me, ever so slightly, and rolls a huge, brown eye.

It’s real. My heart pounds. Goosebumps rise along my arms. My mind spins an image of that rack crushing my body.

I slide one foot backward, then the other. Step by slow step I move away from the Bull Moose.

When I’ve backed around the corner, I turn and sprint the opposite direction. I’ve never run so fast.

Two young men on mountain bikes ride toward me on the trail. They look to be about twenty, the age of my oldest son. I motion for them to stop. “There’s a moose up there, a big bull. You might want to turn around.”

They look at each other, then at me, and smile, the kind of slightly patronizing smile one might offer a cowardly, middle-aged woman. “Don’t think we’ll worry about it,” one says. “We see them all the time.” And off they ride.

I run on, still thinking of that huge head turning toward me. That rack the size of my dining room table. I’ve run just a few more minutes when the two young men appear at my side, this time going my direction. “We thought we’d leave the trail to him,” one calls out as they pass, this time a trace of sheepishness in his smile.

What an experience. Running, my mid-life passion, has given me not only increased bone density, muscle strength, and endurance, but also the opportunity to meet the granddaddy of all Bull Moose. I hug the image of the moose to me as I slow to a jog and continue my run.

~Samantha Ducloux Waltz

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