It was midday when we topped the last rise on the
trail with our noses aimed at the blue coolness of Moose Lake. Rane and I looked
out over the small body of water and spotted the racks of a bull moose ten yards
out from the near shore.
"Is he eating?" Rane whispered, nudging her elbow against my hip. I nodded. The bull swam parallel to the shoreline, its massive body moving in a rhythmic motion that belied the lumbering gait of a moose on land. His head dipped in and out of the water; his mouth opened and closed. Green water plants dangled from his lips. At every other stroke, the shoulder hump rose above the water line for a second.
It was early August, one of six weeks during the year when camping in the Cabinet Mountains can be hospitable. Rane and I had slipped away from our families to hike the back country and enjoy a night of solitude. Our third trip to the lake in five years, this campout could establish the custom as a tradition for us.
Facing the lake, we traced the bull's meandering path with our eyes. Rane wiggled out of her pack and I heard the shrill call of a stellar s jay. I shrugged off my own pack and reached out to massage Rane's shoulders.
We always saw moose at the lake, but the regal animals usually kept their distance except at night. The year before, we'd lounged on fallen logs around the campfire at dusk and watched the shadowy forms of yearlings as they played tag along the shoreline. On our first trip, four years before, I awakened in the middle of a moonless night to the sound of moose snorts blasting against the nylon tent flap. I lay in my sleeping bag listening to the animal breathing two feet from my face, relieved that this close encounter was with an herbivore. The next morning, we'd fingered hoof marks gouged deep in black mud.
Rane pulled her shirt over her head. The tan line on her back intersected with her sports bra, which was off next. I heard the zipper on her shorts. In seconds she was naked and barefoot, advancing on the waterline.
I watched my friend wade in, her compact body merging with green lake water, shadows of algae swirling behind her. She swam in figure eights, edging closer to the moose. I shaded my eyes against the sun. Minutes dragged by. Ripples spread outward from the bull's course to converge with ripples from Rane's figure eights. I measured the distance between Rane and the massive animal with my eyes. So close.
Moose are unpredictable. Their eyesight is poor, and a cow or bull could decide to charge before getting a good look at its opponent. When a driver meets a moose, the animal might stand and stare at the vehicle for interminable periods of time, crash off into roadside brush, or assume the lead, trotting along in a grunting, jolting gait for minutes or hours. I didn't know what the bull would make of a nude woman interrupting his midday snack.
Rane drew closer to the moose. As her arms plunged into the water in a graceful front crawl, she adjusted her rhythm to match the bull's dipping motions. When a bare three yards separated the two, the bull turned and swam toward the east side of the lake. Rane dove under the water, surfaced, and swam to the near shore. When she stood, algae slid down her thighs. Mud squirted between her toes, and as she lifted each petite foot, I heard a sucking sound. She turned to watch the bull. I stepped closer, looking over her shoulder. In the August sun at six thousand feet, goose bumps rose on her bare skin as lake water sluiced to the ground.
"He looked right at me," she whispered. "His eyes are incredible. The water turns the fur of his wattle black."
"Weren't you afraid?"
"No." She touched my arm, and I smelled the richness of decayed plants on her wet hand. "I had an orgasm."
This from a woman who searched for years before finding one with a man. A breeze blew across us, cooling the sweaty lines from my pack straps and drying Rane's skin. We stood watching a trail of ripples radiating from the bull's wake.
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