Man or Moose?
Great moments in building history: Keep that bottle rocket handy
Working on a house renovation in Fairbanks, Alaska, I set up one day to install base and trim. Because space was at a premium, I set up my saws on a large ground-level deck at the back of the house just outside the kitchen. This would necessitate some walking, but it kept the house relatively dust-free.
Everything was fine until she showed up, she being a 1200-lb. moose with a 600-lb. yearling calf in tow. The homeowner, Marilyn, was an avid vegetable gardener with a 5-gal. plastic composting bucket on the edge of the deck. The moose had discovered the bucket of rotting scraps and must have been in heaven to have found a springtime feast after a winter of feeding on sparse willow buds.
Although moose can be cranky in the spring, she looked preoccupied enough, and I had a job to do. I snuck out the door, passing within 15 ft. of her. My dilemma was clear: Keep my eyes on the moose and lose a finger in the saw, or keep my eyes on the work and get trampled by a startled moose. Fortunately, the saw didn’t seem to bother her.
I made a few successful trips in and out, but my progress eventually was thwarted. Maybe it was the warm spring sun. Maybe it was the possibly alcoholic content of the fermenting compost. The bottom line was that the moose had fallen asleep on the deck under a bay window, and her fuzzy brown nose was in the swing of the door. To get to my saw now, I would have to tap her on the head to wake her and excuse myself as I sidled past—probably not a good idea. The other choice, although safer, involved walking around the whole house through knee-deep snow, also not much of an option.
The moose looked like Lee Marvin’s horse passed out in the alley in Cat Ballou. I tried to wake her by swatting her across her snout, but that was a bad move. Her eyes opened wide, the hairs on her hump lifted slightly, and her ears flinched back a bit, all sure signs that she wasn’t happy.
I backed into the house, shutting all doors between the moose and myself. “Does your husband have a gun?” I asked Marilyn, half in jest. But then one of her children had an idea: “We have a bottle rocket, Mom!” Maybe I could scare the moose away.
Soon, I was back at the door, holding the tail of a bottle rocket while Marilyn struck a match to light it. Everyone jumped back as I opened the door and thrust the fizzling, hissing stick outside. The moose woke with a jerk, and when the rocket went off, she turned and clattered across the deck and across the yard.
I heard the roar of the crowd but knew it was just Marilyn and her children laughing at the fool carpenter charging across the deck and chasing an animal 6 times his size, sparks shooting from his outstretched hand.
When I was about 50 ft. from the house, the rocket went out, and not knowing much about bottle rockets, I stood there and shook it. The moose had stopped, too, another 50 ft. farther. I looked up in time to see her take one tentative step toward me, ears laid back against the nape of her neck and hump hairs bristling. I have no doubt she discovered me for the nutcase I was and that she intended to clean up the gene pool by composting me with her hooves. I made the deck as quickly as I’d left it.
The moose and her calf bedded down in the sun at the edge of an aspen grove near the yard but far enough away from my work area. Every time I came out of the house, she gave me the evil eye, which unnerved me until I gave it right back to her. I didn’t want her to think I’d used up the last bottle rocket.
Drawing by: Jackie Rogers