Gateway to the Classics: Forest Neighbors by Edith M. Patch and Carroll Lane Fenton
Forest Neighbors by  Edith M. Patch and Carroll Lane Fenton

The Herd in the Moose Yard

T HREE moose were tramping through their yard one cold January day. There was no fence around the yard, for it was not in a zoo, a park, or any other place where men put fences. There were no men with shovels in the yard either; and yet there were good paths through the deep snow. The paths led along sheltered slopes where poplars, willows, and birch saplings grew, and where tall thick pines served as windbreaks.

Alces and Moos‑wa and Ten‑nee, the three moose, made those paths themselves. Ten‑nee, the calf, was not strong enough to do very much of the work; but he helped a little as he ran or walked along the paths, packing the snow with his hoofs as he went. In places, the snow was so deep that he could not see over the sides of the path. He walked between these high, white walls until he came to more open spaces where there were leafless twigs that he could chew and swallow. He liked the twigs of most of the bushes that grew there, and he browsed, too, on the low branches of poplars and birch trees; but he did not eat the pines.

Alces, the bull, and Moos‑wa, the cow, kept these walks open. They began this work in November, when only a little snow covered the ground. Their big hoofs made long, pointed tracks in the snow. Alces' tracks were four inches wide, six inches long, and as much as five feet apart. Moos‑wa's tracks were not quite so large and they were not quite so far apart, showing that her steps were shorter than those of her mate.


Moose tracks in the snow.

For a while, the moose could leave their paths when they wanted to go for walks through the forest. But when snows became deep, they could not do that. Instead, they stayed in their "yard." They would not leave it again until springtime, when the thick drifts of snow would melt.

The moose did not mind staying at home. Indeed, no moose travels far unless hunters or wolves chase him or fire follows him. Alces had lived in the forest eight years, yet he never had been ten miles from the shore of Walloon's lake. In the fall, he often crossed low ridges to lakes a few miles away; and once he had gone a bit farther. That was when an old bear came to live in the cedar woods near the lake shore. But when the bear disappeared, Alces returned to the very place where he and Moos‑wa later made their yard.

The moose yard was in a low, damp valley half a mile from the lake. Balsam firs and white cedars grew near it. There also were thickets of small trees, or large shrubs, called striped maple or moosewood, and growths of willows, poplars, and birches. Alces and Ten-nee ate twigs and buds of all these except the white cedars. They especially liked the moosewood. Their best, most-used paths were those that led to moosewood thickets.


The moose often went to balsam fir and moosewood for food.
1—tender twig-tip and buds of a balsam fir. 2—balsam fir needles and cone. 3—leaves and seeds of the striped maple, or moosewood. 4—moosewood seeds, with wide "wings."

Until the snow became too deep, they also ate sedges and marsh grass. When those were covered, they found some plants called "horsetails" with tips above the snow, and ate them. The jointed stems of the horsetails were tough and harsh, but they tasted good enough to the moose. They were better to eat than the club moss which was abundant in the forest, though the old moose sometimes ate that, too.

When you look at the picture of Alces, you may think he used his large antlers to shovel snow from deep drifts, or to brush it from branches of balsam fir. They do look as if they might be handy for work of that sort. However, Alces had no such help from his antlers. Indeed, he was without them for most of the winter. He shed them in December. When he did have them, he wore these antlers for weapons and not shovels!

As you may know, the solid antlers of moose, caribou, wapiti, and other members of the Deer Family, are quite different from the hollow horns that certain other hoofed animals have. Antelopes, bison, cattle, goats, and sheep do not shed their hollow horns; but the animals with solid antlers shed them every year and then grow new ones.

The bull moose's new antlers began to grow in April of each year. While they were growing, they were covered with deep, velvety skin in which rich blood was flowing. This blood held lime and other minerals that made the antlers grow rapidly. During this time of growth, they were tender, and Alces was careful not to hit them against branches. In about three months, however, his antlers were full-grown and hard. Then the "velvet" dried and came off in shreds. At first the fresh, bare antlers were bony white, but by fall they were tanned to a deep brown except that the tips were white and polished from being rubbed against bushes and trees.

While his antlers were growing and becoming hard, Alces lived alone. He spent spring and early summer on the ridges that were covered with willow and poplar thickets. These thickets became very hot in August, while millions of flies buzzed through them. So many flies bit Alces' big, soft nose that he moved to more open woods near the lake. If flies and heat bothered him there, he could bathe in the lake water.

Though Alces knew nothing about a clock, he divided his August days into six separate parts quite regularly. Before dawn, he got up and went to the lake, where he waded and ate a breakfast of water-lily leaves. At sunrise he went back to the woods and lay down, sleeping or chewing his cud until about eleven o'clock. Then he waded, bathed, and spent three hours among the plants near the lake's edge, where he ate his dinner. He took a nap from two until half-past five. Then he ate a supper of lily stems, grass, sedge, and horsetails. If the day was very hot, he bathed. At dark, he went back to the woods to chew his cud and sleep until morning, when he began all over again.

In September, Alces changed his ways. He became restless, trotting through the woods and hitting bushes with his antlers. Often he stamped his feet and gave deep, rumbling grunts. His temper became bad, too. He chased harmless young moose away, and scared off deer that passed through the woods.

One night, Alces stamped his way to the shore of the lake. There he lifted his head proudly and gave a hoarse, grunting bellow.


Alces, the bull moose, stood beside the lake and gave a loud bellow.

A young moose heard the deep, roaring sound. If he had been as old and strong and brave as Alces, he would have bellowed loudly in reply. Then he would have gone to meet Alces and the two bulls would have clashed their antlers together and fought. But the young bull was only three years old. The heavy voice of Alces made him timid. He slipped off among the pine trees, glad to get away.

There was no old bull in the valley to challenge Alces and become his rival. But Alces had one answer to his call. Moos‑wa was walking in the moonlight with young Ten‑nee when she heard Alces bellow. She liked the roaring sound of his voice. She was feeling rather lonely and called softly, "Whoowah."

Alces heard Moos‑wa and went to meet her. He was lonesome, too, and was glad to find her.

Ten‑nee was wary of the big bull at first and stayed away for a few days. Then he came back to Moos‑wa and found that Alces was kind to him. So he followed the two moose when Alces led his mate to the shallow lake where they waded in above their knees to feed on yellow pond lilies called "spatterdocks." There were no flowers on the lily plants then, but the moose liked the thick, pulpy leaves and the tender stems. They went into the lake every day for food until the weather became so cold that ice formed on the water. After that it was not long before snow began to fall, and the herd of three moose went to live in their winter yard.


Moos‑wa and Ten-nee at the edge of their winter yard.

No other moose joined Alces, Moos‑wa and Ten-nee in their winter home that year. Their nearest neighbors were a few snowshoe rabbits, two squirrels, a porcupine, and some Canada Jays.

The Canada Jays visited the moose yard very often. They sometimes found boring insects in the dead branches that the moose knocked down and broke as they tramped about. These birds have a habit of lingering near moose yards; and for this reason people call them "moose birds."

When Alces dropped his antlers, the squirrels and porcupine nibbled them. The squirrels feasted during the daytime; and the porcupine came at night and stayed almost till daybreak. When these little animals finally finished their antler picnics, there were only two rough stubs left.

But Alces did not care what happened to these old things he had shed. He could grow new ones when he needed them. Until that time, he had enough to do breaking paths, without carrying two great, heavy antlers on his shaggy head.

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