I’m not a useful person to take camping.
A handsome face is great and everything, but when you’re sitting among a bunch of trees, 30 miles away from the possibility of posting a selfie to Instagram, that handsome face doesn’t add much value to the good of the group.
I was lamenting this reality as I walked with Mother along the bank of the river, how if we were to encounter a bear, I’d instinctively do the wrong thing and get us both killed; how if she were to trip and get swept away by the rapids, the only thing me jumping in to save her would accomplish would be the comfort of knowing she didn’t die alone, when her chipper voice interrupted my reverie:
“There you go, T-Man: Think you can get that log back to the campsite for us?” She pointed at a dead stump nestled in the brush.
Well, not only did I get the log back to the campsite, but I unearthed my calling as an outdoorsman. It turns out that 30 years of wrestling, decades of deadlifts, and a complete dearth of common sense is the perfect recipe for a firewood collector. After getting that initial log back to the fire, I made it my mission to gather every felled piece of timber within a 200-yard radius for our camp’s incendiary delights.
But I couldn’t stop at just the grounded lumber. No, gathering wood had given me purpose, so once the meadow floor was clear, I got to work on the dead trees that still stood among their living brethren, kicking them, twisting them, bashing them with stones. I’d managed to get a pair down when a particularly sinewy specimen refused to accept its fate, requiring every ounce of my attention and firewood-gathering prowess. I kicked, tugged, and twisted for minutes on end, breaking into a full sweat, forearms burning from exertion, when suddenly:
“WHAT THE FUCK?!?” I screamed, my obscenity drowned out by the most disturbing neigh this country boy has ever heard, my balance upset by a forceful nudge in the back.
I turned to confront my assailant. Galloping toward higher elevation, accompanied by a juvenile companion, was the ugliest beast I’d ever seen. It was about the size of a horse, but it had the mien of a sick cow.
“WORTHLESS PIECE OF SHIT!!” I yelled as it vanished into the distance.
My firewood forgotten, I took off running in the opposite direction, back to the safety of our
“Big Lemus,” I gasped, waking my dad from his hooded fireside slumber. “I think I just got attacked by a moose!”
He squinted his eyes and furrowed his brow. “What the hell you mean you just got attacked by a moose?”
“It was this big animal that looked kind of like a horse or cow or giraffe or something and there was a little baby with it!”
“Oh yeah: moose,” he asserted. “Moose and her kid.”
At that time, Mother, disturbed by my frantic cries, emerged from the cabin. I grabbed her and used her as a prop to show Big Lemus what had happened. “I was out collecting wood and didn’t even see it coming,” I said, positioning myself behind her, “then next thing you know, I hear this loud cry and am getting pushed from behind.” I lowered the side of my head and gave my mom a whop in the middle of the back, thrusting her forward several feet.
Big Lemus chuckled dismissively. “Tucker, I think you’re full of manure.”
“No I’m not!” I exclaimed. “Why would I have been gone as long as I was and come running back without any wood if something bad hadn’t happened?”
Big Lemus raised his palms and shook his head in perplexity, but he was interrupted by the return of Nate Lee before he could say anything flippant.
Nate Lee is everything I am not. The man is a walking Patagonia billboard, the golden fish hook wedged in the bill of his cap causing trout tremors throughout the Rocky Mountain region. His dexterity with a compass is rivaled only by a young Meriwether Lewis; his skill in wielding the Swiss Army knife provides peace to those he counts among his friends. He looked on in bewilderment as I reenacted the scene of my attack.
“Oh, wow, T-Crunch, you’re really lucky,” he explained in o-mouthed wonder. “People get killed all the time by mother moose protecting their cubs.”
My heart started pattering as I absorbed the information. “Are you serious? I just had a near-death experience and didn’t even know it?”
“I’m serious if you’re serious,” he asserted, the tautness of his forehead confirming that he wasn’t just trying to get a rise out of me. “It seriously just shoved you and ran off?”
“Well, it made that weird noise…..”
“Yeah, you’re 100% lucky then,” he returned sincerely. “You don’t want to mess with a mother moose. Want me to come with you and help you get that firewood?”
“I wasn’t messing with it!” I exclaimed. “I was minding my own business, and it came up and attacked me from behind, like an asshole. And no, now that I know I’ve been given a second lease on life, why would I gamble on a third for a bunch of wood that we’re just going to burn?”
Nate Lee went to get the wood, adopting my one worthwhile skill into his tremendous many. I sat down and started tossing pine cones, staring contemplatively into the endless Montana sky. If I ever saw that moose again, I’d have to be ready with something better than “worthless piece of shit.”