Mother moose and her calf wallow in briny muck. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)
Writer Mark Seth Lender watches a moose and her calf as they seek out salt in a briny mud wallow in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies.
CURWOOD: Head fifty miles west from Calgary in Alberta, and you'll reach the edge of the Canadian Rockies with its jagged snow-capped peaks. Writer Mark Seth Lender visited Mount Engadine Lodge there. But it wasn't the spectacular mountains that riveted his gaze at sunrise; instead, he was captivated by the mud wallow just below the lodge.
Moose at the Mt. Engadine Wallow
© 2014 Mark Seth Lender
All Rights Reserved
LENDER: The land lies between two rows of mountains, white-capped like a sea of stone. Down in the trough between them water flows, not an ocean, but only the trickle of a stream: small reminder of the torrent that once flowed in a distant time…a time of ice.
The glacier’s grinding advance. All that rock and dust—the fines and filings of the land—made this soft silt ground, and the water that remains combines to make a mire, this La Brea made of mud where moose come to wallow in the dark and tar-like stuff. They are mothers and daughters and mothers and sons. They sink, up to their bellies and their hips, into the sucking bog, fossils in the making.
Instead, their long legs pull free. They turn. They bow their heads to drink.
Each hoof prints a cup that fills with water, and in that water are valuable things more pressing than thirst. Their quest is not for wet, but salt, the salt of the earth that once was mountains: calcium, magnesium in oxides and carbonates, sodium and chloride. Without these buffering salts they will starve though their bellies bulge with the sweetest grass on earth. Without salt, the ferment of digestion stops. And the moose knows this and shows the way to her calf-of-the-year.
And the calf, new in this world, watches and stands as close as she can—moving side to side; standing flank to flank; head to head; back to back.
The calf and her mother, like atoms bound in a carbon ring, each mirroring the other. By salt they grow, healthy and fat.
The wide stiff brush of hair that runs along the calf’s young spine is a throwback to Lascaux and Chauvet where our ancestors drew hers in ochre and umber, and charcoal mixed with fat in those intimate torch-lit spaces in the ground. Portraying with the first paint in human hands what life was for all of us, on the edge of a vast and frozen place—its trepidation, borne like the whims of season without complaint, its hope, like sun entering the dark mouth of the cave; its agonies, at the end of the game.
Thirty thousand years ago that was. Is there much difference, now?
CURWOOD: To see what Mark Seth Lender saw, slog on over to LOE.org.
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