Saturday, January 17, 2009

Roadblock of Flesh and Bone

“Watch for moose!” has been my mother’s constant refrain to her children since my parents moved up the mountain two years ago. Their new house sits nestled among acres of tilled fields and scrubby forest and the occasional neighbor farmhouse. In other words, a perfect breeding ground for the oversized ungulates. They walk through our horses’ electric fence about once a week. They browse for potatoes in the garden. They meander along the side of the road as we whiz past, heading back to Anchorage after a weekend of leisure and hauling firewood and a backseat full of Sunday dinner leftovers.

Katy once had a near miss. A bull moose standing just outside the reach of her headlights leaned a little too close and his antlers clattered across the side of her car as she tried to stop on the icy hill. Other than a shaken Katy, and a bull moose whose head probably rang with vibrations for days, they were unharmed.

But a few weeks ago, I crossed an item off my Alaskan list that I hoped would always remain unticked.

I hit a moose.

She just appeared in the far reaches of my low beams, scrambling in the center of the road, trying to avoid my car. I stood on my brakes and the Santa Fe slowed. It slowed almost to a stop on the wind-cleared roads and, for a split second, I thought we were all going to be okay. But, just as the Santa Fe was halted, we caught up with the moose, and clipped her back legs. She sat on my hood, her rump making a loud, metallic thump that I had only heard in the movies when unsuspecting teenagers hit pedestrians in the road.

She recovered her footing quickly, and I don’t think she ever hit the ground. We were all still for a moment – me, with my hands wrapped around my steering wheel; Peter Segal from Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me telling some joke over the radio; the moose, avoiding eye contact, her right back leg lifted gingerly.

As we stood there, avoiding eye contact in the middle of the road, I thought of the moose/vehicle confrontations that I’d heard of in the past.

In high school, I drove past an accident. The car was totaled, its front bumper pushed into the dashboard and windshield shattered. And the moose lay, her legs curled under her, and a stream of blood flowing to the storm drain. They were waiting for the police to come and put the animal down.

When I was in elementary school, my dad hit a moose on his way to work. Again, the car was totaled and the moose was shot.

I’ve broken her leg
, I thought. I’ve totaled my car. Now we’ll have to call the Troopers and make them come out and shoot and quarter this animal in negative-fifteen degree weather.

I don’t mind the fact that people kill and eat moose. Moose is a staple in Alaska – its lean meat is healthy and plentiful. But if I’m going to hunt, I want to do it on purpose. Neither of us was looking for a fight. We both just wanted to cross the road.

My fears were allayed when she started putting weight on her leg. Eventually she stepped over the snow berm and crunched through the snow - walking off without even exchanging insurance information.

So she wasn’t broken, although I’m sure that she’ll be sore for a while. And aside from a large dent in my hood, my car was unharmed.

As moose collisions go, this one went about as well as it could have.

And now that I’ve crossed it off my list, I can drive as fast as I want down that mountain.

Just kidding, Mom.