I saw them again this morning. Just the mama moose this time, with her twins.

The young ones searched the parched earth for any last stubbles of life, under the watchful eye of their mother, in their quest to gain as much weight as possible before likely being left to fend for themselves this winter. Emma and I were on a mountain run a ways from the barn, and I kept her close so she wouldn’t inspire the cow to charge. The bull was already gone… a friend said he’d seen the male with the massive rack a couple of canyons over, while he was on a recent twilight scout for an elk herd.

Last week I took one of my horses into the backcountry, where I ran into a little trouble involving an animal den and a water crossing. A riding compadre was with me, and both of our horses refused (likely for good reason) to even approach the river, let alone cross it, which was the only way out of the steep-faced gulch. The dank smell of bigger game was in the air, and we knew something other than us was close by.

Our futile blend of pleading, forcing, and coercing held no sway, and dark had fallen by the time they sensed danger had passed. The moon hadn’t yet risen, and as the forest closed in with impenetrable black, my mare walked strong through the trees, her millennia-old internal navigation system more trustworthy than the human on her back.

We found the trailer as the moon was cresting the ridge, loaded the horses, and opened a beer for the 30 minute dirt-road drive back to the highway. When we finally hit pavement, a lifted truck with huge tires blasted past us in the opposite direction, and I silently wondered where they’d be going at this time of night.

Cell service returned a few minutes later, and a concerned text showed up from the friend living in the small barn studio under my place. I wrote that I was ok, had got into a bit of a bind in a remote spot, and would be home soon.

He was waiting with a couple of flakes of hay when I pulled into the driveway, and helped me turn the horses out into the pasture and feed them. His girlfriend was climbing out of his truck, and I asked him where they’d been.

‘Looking for you.’

He said that when night fell and I didn’t answer his text, he thought maybe something had happened. I’d mentioned where I was headed, and he figured that if he could find my trailer, he could probably find me. So he took off to scout my horse hooves like trailing an elk herd, just in case.

He’d recognized my rig passing his at the edge of the dirt road, turned around, and beat me home.

Yesterday, he showed me a grainy photo of the bull moose he’d seen a few nights ago, separated from mate and offspring, like their mother will be when breeding season begins again.

The young ones will be disconnected, alone, with no one looking out for them.

Like some of us think we are now.

There’s a lifted Toyota Tundra with 33-inch tires sitting in my driveway, evidence to the contrary.