It’s Enough To Make A Grown Man Cry

By: Gary Gray

As I sat and watched moose gathering the other morning, I was thinking about the paths of life that led me to this spot in the mountains and I came to the realization that in many ways I was like my father.

My father was an avid hunter. He spent most of his life living in Kentucky and while I was growing up, one of his favorite pass-times was squirrel hunting. It’s a hillbilly way of life, but for him, getting out into the woods for those morning walks searching for squirrels was a constant thought and motivation.

As his health deteriorated following his cancer diagnosis, one of his wishes was to get back out to the woods just one more time before he died. In a small way, that thought kept him going. He managed to recover from surgery long enough to achieve that wish.

I came to the realization that I had inherited a similar passion. Hunting moose photographs in the mountains. I wish he could have lived longer and that I could have shared my world with him. He would have loved it. Fleeting thoughts, brought on by the joy of being out in the wilderness. Experiencing a connection with nature that many never get to experience while I rationalized my past life experiences and the parallels to my place in the world these days.

My thoughts were interrupted by a moose walking along the road directly towards me. A young bull, on his own path and mission to get to some unknown destination somewhere along the road into the woods behind me, he showed no concern for my presence in his path. As he approached, I followed him with my camera and was able to catch a satisfying sequence of photographs. Once he walked past me, I started the engine and moved on up the trail from which he came.

A bit up that road, about a quarter of a mile, I noticed a pickup truck parked along side the road near a lake where the moose were gathering. A few feet from that truck stood a man, my age, maybe older, and with him was a small dog on a leash. He was simply staring off into the woods at the moose and enjoying the scenery, 10 miles from the nearest paved road.

I pulled to the side of the dirt road near the man and stepped out to exchange a few thoughts about the scene we were both witnessing together alone in the middle of nowhere. I wanted to alert him to the presence of many moose and about being cautious with where he walked his dog, as moose consider dogs to be wolves, their mortal enemy.

As we spoke, he said to me. “This is my favorite place on earth. My father and I used to come to this place all the time.” His memories of past times were strong and had never left him. Within a few moments of us striking a conversation, he began tearing up and became emotional. “I wish he could be here with me to see this today.” he said. I told him that I understood the feeling and shared the same reverence for this spot in the mountains. He tried to continue the conversation, but I could tell that I caught him at a moment of silent contemplation and that his emotions had taken hold of him. I was intruding.

He was slightly embarrassed and apologized for crying about his memories. I shook his hand and gave him a big smile. “Brother, I fully understand. I love this place too and it’s those fond memories of the past that help keep things in perspective.” I said.

I wished him well and apologized for intruding into his private thoughts along that isolated mountain road.

I smiled with understanding when he said “It’s okay, I just get emotional when I come out here. I miss sharing this with my dad. Pay no mind to me.”

It was time to wrap up the morning adventure so I kept driving along the road towards the highway. Within a short distance, my thoughts drifted back to my father and the kinship the stranger and I shared in that moment. Profound thoughts concerning the encounter overwhelmed me. My eyes moistened up and I had to pull off the road long enough to clear the slow forming tears from my eyes. Sharing that moment with the man in the wilderness had overwhelmed him and me both.

The beauty and serenity of being alone in the wilderness in what has to be one of the most magnificent places in the world has a way of taking hold of your thoughts. For a few brief moments that morning my long deceased father sat with me in that truck. The awesomeness of the experience can’t be measured, it’s too profound.

It’s enough to make a grown man cry.

Moose Monday

Northern Colorado – July 2019

2020 may be the strangest moose photography season I’ve experienced.

Based on my observations, the moose are thriving in Colorado. I don’t know if there is an accurate estimate of how many moose are living in stable breeding populations in the state. Colorado Parks and Wildlife estimates the population to be around 3,000, personally, I think the number could be higher than that, based on the density and frequency I’ve seen in Northern Colorado, but, I’ve done no scientific study. Over the past 10 years, I’ve frequently seen moose in areas of the state where I had never seen them before, leading me to believe that they are migrating to a lot of new areas across the state.

In the summer of 2020, the influx of humans into the wilderness areas of Colorado has definitely impacted their normal  habitat. I’ve seen more hikers, campers and anglers in moose habitat areas in 2020, probably due to the pandemic and people needing to get outdoors, and the moose responded by changing their movement patterns into areas of greater isolation and away from human activity. The worsening wildfire situation is almost certain to further alter their habitat, with a large scale destruction of prime moose habitat occurring in the Rawah and Comanche Peaks wilderness areas.

Over the past several years, a typical day for me would include sighting around 20-25 different moose in my normal photography locations. This year the numbers were down to about one third of that. In those same areas, human activity picked up to three times a normal level, from what I’ve observed. The moose were out there, but they were staying away from humans, which is probably a natural self-preservation response from these animals. Health wise, the moose I’ve found this year all seemed to be in good health, eating well, and breeding successfully. The cows and calves were in higher than normal quantities this past summer but many of the larger and mature bulls were absent from my normal areas of photography. The questions is, where did they go? Moose are known as wanderers and I have a few ideas on where they are moving and where to find them, but the premature halt to photography season forced me to abandon my quest to find out more. I hope to figure out the answer to that question in 2021.

Moose Monday

Bull Moose in the Rawah Wilderness of Colorado – August 13th, 2020

Today’s moose photo was taken the day the Cameron Peak Wildfire began burning in the Rawah Wilderness of Colorado. The spot where I got this shot is now gone. Burned in a wildfire that continues to spread in Northern Colorado.

Moose Monday

Colorado Rocky Mountains – Shiras Moose in the Wild

My moose photography for 2020 has pretty much concluded, cut short by the Cameron Peak Wildfire in Northern Colorado.

The amount of damage to the moose habitat in the Rawah Wilderness is still unknown at this time, as the fire is still burning out of control.

I’ll be out again next summer to explore the damage and find out how the critters handled the catastrophe.