I learned a lesson from a Moose out in the Wild River Wilderness the other day. (Thanks to Flickr for the photo, I did not take a picture of my moose.)
I had put together this massive run for myself (well, by my standards); an epic loop that served as my plan B due to impending weather and a Subaru derby in the Presidential Range (I still managed to hear the engines echoing through Carter Notch and Perkins Notch, respectively). East Branch to Wild River to Black Angel, spur off for Mt. Height, bag Carter Dome, down to Carter Notch, grab Wild River back over to Perkins Notch, out on Bog Brook, down Carter Notch Road, over Black Mountain and down the East Pasture, then grabbing Baldlands to scoot behind the Doubleheads and back to the truck on East Branch. Epic.
If you’ve ever hiked out in the Wild River Wilderness before, then you know that at any given moment moose probably outnumber humans 100 to 1. The trails aren’t exactly runner friendly. It is all muck, mud and moose droppings and you spend most of your time bushwhacking down the ‘trail’. In short, if you are one of those hikers who thinks no hike is complete without mud-caked toes, a mild case of insect-induced insanity, a surprising wildlife encounter, and a little bit of second-guessing as to which path is the trail and which is just a moose path, then you need look no further than here.
Anyways, I was at a canter, ready to log some miles and be out by early afternoon. On the trail at quarter to six and feeling great. I was however briefly interrupted in the first half hour. I frightened a moose cow over to the right side of the trail in the brush, and she galloped off rather quickly. I waited a moment and, seeing that she had already vacated the area, proceeded down the trail with caution.
On the other side of the bend she was waiting for me. Staring me in the eyes down the trail and blocking it with her body broadside. Not moving. ‘Okay moose’ I said, ‘you do your thing.’ I turned around, gave her some space, and waited some five or ten minutes before making some noise and continuing down the trail again.
She hadn’t moved a muscle. The way she eyed me down from down the trail seemed to say ‘Nope. This is my trail. I don’t know where you’re going but I’m standing right here. My ground.’ Consequently, I retreated down the trail once more to examine the situation. I felt I was pushing my luck with the moose’s patience if I came around again and she was still there. I resolved to wait it out.
I gave her half an hour or so, during which time I stood still, examined a mushroom on the ground, listened and watched as a ruffed grouse beelined through the brush in front of me, and enjoyed the warmth on my skin as the sun continued to rise and began to penetrate the trees.
I really enjoyed the half an hour standing still. I wondered to myself why I haven’t done that more often this summer. I realized that while I have been doing so much trail running, increasing mileage, going faster and exploring more peaks and trails than ever before, I had begun to lose sight of the fundamental reasons I like to spend time outside on the trail. True, I find movement to be inherently meditative in its own right, hence all the time I’ve spent doing it. But I feel that somewhere along the way I had again been absorbed by results and end goals and forgotten about the simple pleasure I derive from listening to birds and trying to guess which they are, looking at mushrooms and taking mental pictures so I can look them up later, and trying to identify all the trees along the way. I had been so focused on the meditation in movement that I wasn’t giving adequate attention to the meditation in stillness.
I came to the conclusion that I would not run the whole loop. Sure, I would run pieces to make sure I finished before dark, but I would also slow down and take time to look at mushrooms, listen to birds, and think about trees. This was my Saturday, after all, and I didn’t have any legitimate reason to be rushing along. Indeed, that is besides the point. I would sit in the sun on a rock on the Wild River, and on a boulder in the Ramparts in Carter Notch to enjoy some of the snacks I had packed for myself. I harvested some chaga from the side of a birch tree I found, and now I’ll be able to make some tea later. I connected a common bird call I recognized to the Blue Jay. In summary, it was a very beautiful day in the woods.
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After about thirty minutes standing still farther down the trail, I continued on down the path once more. My friend the moose had finally moved on. I trodded forward with a smile, a newfound walking stick in hand, feeling thankful that this moose had so firmly stood its ground, given me this time to reflect, and reminded me to slow down every now and again.