June 30th, Nighttime, 2011
A birthday spent lakeside at the foot of the Montana Rockies is the birthday well spent. A birthday in which certain death Mufasa style is narrowly avoided was not planned for. I guess that’s just what happens when you try to celebrate your birthday in the wild without a clue where you are.
After finishing yesterday’s post, I headed to the hardware store. A frying pan, nylon rope, and lighter later, I stopped by the Eureka’s organic food store to get ingredients for my famous onion-apple stirfry, consisting of onions, apples, cheese, and little bits of smoked ham. Loaded up, I drove the twenty minute dirt road drive to Lake Frank, bottoming out only twice with my Camry, a city slicker if there ever was one. I dream of owning a 4×4.
Arriving at the lake, I find it deserted. The families who I had seen earlier with RV’s that seemed to be in it for the weekend had left, leaving a still burning fire. I built a smaller one nearby to cook dinner, set up camp, and started cutting vegetables.
After accidently adding the final ingredient—fire ash—my stirfry was done. Not too shabby for camp cookin’, and it only cost me $7.11 to make. I built up the main fire, let the smaller one die out, and put my feet up on the hot rocks to watch the sunset. It was about 9 pm when I finished eating, so I had an hour of daylight left to read Even Cowgirls get the Blues, a recommendation from a close friend.
At around ten, the sun finally started to set and the deep blue of the Montana big sky sank deeper into darkness. “Muhhhh-uhhhhhh” I hear a sound like a wookie, but without the guttural noise coming from across the lake. It is close, but the deep growl only reminds me I should be cautious. I should have taken the disspearance of other lakegoers as a sign.
Figuring the sound to be a moose, I log on to the internet to check. I have no cell service, but the internet has three bars even 20 miles into the woods. The moose sound is not a moose sound. It is the growl of a grizzly. More pleased than scared, and happy at having something to write about the next day, I close the computer, store it in my tent, and pick up where I left off reading.
The air is filled with bugs. Hundreds of thousands of little green bugs. They seem to be headed upwards, though there are so many I never witness any progress. The silence is interrupted only by their dim buzzing. A deer wanders out past the fork nearby. I watch her for a while, alternating with Tom Robbin’s page-and-a-half long chapters. I get engrossed in the novel, and do not even notice when the bugs disappear. The silence is absolute, the fire my only light save a dimming sky.
“Eeeeeuhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” I hear from far across the lake. From my recent search of Youtube animal sounds, I know this is the shrill call of the bull moose. It is calling females to come and mate. I am again happy to have heard the rare noise, and keep on reading.
“Snap!” It comes from across the lake. I squint through the darkness.
“Snap!” It comes again a few moments later. A black shape hulks out of the pine forest across the lake. Two more follow. I can barely see them, but recall hearing that moose and elk are just as dangerous as bears. If they charge, you are as good as crippled. Curious, I walk to the closest strip of mud to the other side and squint again. I can’t tell how many shapes I see now, or what they look like. Accepting that I nor my camera will be able to see, I return to my chair and keep reading.
Not a minute later I grow unnerved. I look across the lake, and see dark shapes cresting the water. The shapes themselves are nearly invisible, but the ripples give them away. I step again towards the water, then rush back to my chair. Calmly but quickly, I pick up my bag. Not sure how much time I have before the shapes reach my shore, I walk to my car.
Crap. The computer is still in the tent. Figuring the dark shapes were certainly seal team six coming to steal my computer and its secrets, I attempt to return and grab it. I am stopped not halfway by a sight I may never witness again. Out of the water not ten feet from my tent, rises a female moose. My height and ten times my size 32 waist width, the water clings to her fur and gives her the beard of an elder. She is my expected birthday guest, and her dripping moonlit mass is the spitting image of Miyazaki’s deer god in Princess Mononoke (my favorite movie) minus antlers.
My feet freeze, my hand reaches to the camera in my pocket. She walks towards my tent and my sputtering fire. I slowly step back and try to catch her on film. It is too dark, so I back away towards the car. The moose steps within an inch of my tent. I wonder if my computer will become a casualty of moose love.
Returning to the car, I snuggle up in the cramped backseat, deciding not to risk stepping in the way of the flirtation and the possibility of becoming a casualty of moose love myself.
The next morning, I realize I have made it into the wild. Sure enough, birthday moose tracks dot the muddy campsite. In the water, the path of another moose is clearly frozen by crystal clear waters and moldable mud. It was not a dream after all. A turtle surfaces nearby. Little freshwater eels shimmy across the silt lakebed. Shrimp dart back and forth. Sticklike bugs crawl along, stopping when I look at them to camouflage. A fish jumps in the center of Lake Frank. Life is everywhere in Northwestern Montana. I know exactly where I’m spending my next week.
Not at Lake Frank, incidentally. Eureka, Montana is adjacent to one of America’s most beautiful destinations Glacier National Park. I spent the day buying three days worth of organic food, last minute supplies, and mentally preparing myself for three days alone in the wilderness. Bears, moose, elk, deer, goats, rams, trout, snow, and hippies await me. Computers, service-less cell phones, and gasoline prices get left behind. I am excited.