Easy Chair — From the October 2017 issue

The Spaceship and the Moose

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A dozen of us sat and stood around the campfire, guests at a lodge in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains. My wife and I were there to hike and sleep and celebrate our wedding anniversary. Others had come to ride A.T.V.’s, including an amiable couple who farmed in South Dakota at the harsh, dry western edge of the Corn Belt. Their crops were failing in the drought. It wouldn’t be a total loss, but they would need their government-subsidized insurance. I don’t often meet large-acreage arable farmers, and I was curious about their opinion of G.M.O.’s. The husband made some good points in favor of modified corn, the best one being that its resistance to insects reduced the need for pesticides. To convey the dangers of these chemicals, he described watching a deer fall to the ground and die when a crop duster flew by. An animal under chemical attack — the image turned my stomach. Blessedly, the conversation shifted to soil conservation and ethanol production.

Minutes later, from out of the shadows, a moose appeared.

It wasn’t the first moose we had seen that night — two or three had been feeding along a nearby creek — but it was by far the largest, a full-grown female, and it was standing right next to the lodge. It clambered up onto the deck and began licking the wooden cover of the hot tub — hungry for salt and minerals, someone theorized. Now and then it adjusted its bulk, shifting heavily on its spindly legs and scraping its hooves on the wood. We were spellbound. Moose stand taller than people in many cases, and their size gives them status and charisma. It can also make them dangerous. On one wall of the lodge, just a few yards from the fire, a sign warned us not to approach moose too closely and asserted that they injure more humans than bears do. This hot-tub moose appeared oblivious, however. Lumbering and somehow godly, it seemed instantly to make fools of us, with our jabber and our toasted marshmallows. As the fire dwindled to coals and people slipped off to their cabins for the night, the moose never once raised its head. It seemed not to fear us, which made me fear for it.

Later, when I came back to use the hot tub, the moose hadn’t budged. I clapped. I waved my arms. Eventually, it got the message. I undressed in the dark, changed into my trunks, and climbed into the steaming bath alone.

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