I was just so pissed-off, sitting there at the edge of paradise.
A glacial lake cradled in the arms of an expansive mountain valley lay before me, inviting me into the ephemeral beauty and eternal calmness of the green-hued water. I should have been filled with a sense of awe, but I just wasn’t feeling it.
I was sad and very annoyed with the lack of an iconic, long-legged beast that should have been in the lake, dipping her large head below the surface and re-emerging like a submarine.
Just five days prior, I had seen a beautiful moose cow with her calf traverse the opposite shoreline. I watched in amazement as mom sent her calf back to the surrounding brush and proceeded to feed on the mineral-rich vegetation that grows in the shallow water of this Montana lake.
I returned to the spot that day in the hopes of seeing them again, looking to capture more photos of this majestic animal and sooth my current state of disarray.
I was heart-broken over the recent loss of my cat Thor, dreading returning to my cat-less apartment after a few days away with my family. I was sad and nostalgic over my last visit to my family’s recently sold cabin in Lakeside, Montana, a place infused with the spirit of my dad who passed away in March 2017.
Most of all, I was just really pissed-off at people in general, and basically all of humanity.
When my heart is hurting, I crave observing and photographing the animals I love so much in a natural setting. But the amount of people on my drive that morning across the scenic Going to the Sun Road made peaceful observation impossible.
I couldn’t even stop at the summit to look for the mountains goats who frequent a trail behind the visitor centre – there was just no where to park. And now, sitting by that lake, there was a family of four picnicking nearby, with two very loud children whining about the contents of their sandwiches.
‘No self-respecting moose is going to come out in this racket,’ I thought bitterly.
Then, something happened to my state of mind.
I realized how futile and ridiculous it was to be angry at two small children for just being children. And being annoyed with people in general for just being people, driving through one of the most stunning mountain passes in the world.
I decided to re-focus on the memory of the moose mom and calf from my prior visit. My mood softened. I became acutely aware of the soft breeze stroking my skin, the diffuse clouds wrapping themselves around the mountain tops and the whistling of the birds from the dense forest behind me.
At that moment, it no longer mattered that the lake was moose-less.
I heard the family gather their belongings and walk away, their foot steps creating the sound of soft crunching along the rocky shore. This sound fused with some crackling in the trees behind me and more footsteps coming from the opposite direction, larger footsteps.
More people, I assumed. I glanced to my right and was shocked to see a large cow moose, walking along the shoreline directly towards me.
Startled out of my reverie, I gathered my camera gear and scrambled away from the approaching beast, into a more photograph-able position. I did not see a calf so assumed this was not the mother moose I had seen days before.
She was, however, a beautiful specimen of a moose, with a dark, velvety coat clinging to her sleek, muscular body. The water rippled as she sauntered into the lake and began dipping her head below the water. She released rumbling snorts as she emerged with stringy green plants hanging from her mouth, her head glistened with a cascade of water.
Yes! This was exactly what I was hoping to see.
More and more people gathered at the shoreline to watch and take pictures. Instead of being annoyed with the traffic, I alternated between watching the moose and observing the delight of the spectators. Among them was a group of five young children, all huddled on the shoreline right in front of me.
One of the children, a beautiful little girl with blond hair, turned around, looked directly at me and smiled. I smiled back – what a treat it was to see her delight.
I stopped photographing the moose and focused on the five little heads bobbing up and down excitedly in front of me.
The photographer in me was aching to see them from the front, to capture the expression on their faces. But I understood the inappropriateness of a stranger photographing children, so I had to be content with just observing the back of their heads.
I continued watching and photographing the moose for another hour or so – the group of children left, more people came and went. Hunger and soreness from sitting in the rocky dirt finally prompted me to leave.
I had not had my fill of the moose yet, but there was a little cafe a short distance away. I figured I’d take break, grab something to eat and come back later. I was certainly in no rush to get home.
On the path to the cafe, I passed the group of five children again headed back towards the lake, flanked by their adult escorts. The little blond girl once again looked directly at me, made eye contact and beamed with another beautiful smile.
I reached the cafe, ordered some food and examined my photos. I was pretty happy with them, but I wanted more. I wanted a bull moose with a huge rack to show up, or the mom and calf to show up again. A lone female moose in the water was just not enough satisfy to my intense photographic desires.
As I was mentally planning my return to the lake, a vision of the little girl’s smile popped into my head and I was unexpectedly moved to tears. She was just so amazingly beautiful! I knew her smile came from a place that children have easier access to than us adults.
She saw the intense beauty of the moment, reflected in me, the moose, the mountains and everywhere around her. Her smile was a gift from beyond, perhaps even arranged by my dad and Thor and other lost loved ones to remind me to appreciate the here and now. Some things just cannot be captured with a camera.
The desire for more (and better) moose photos was replaced by an appreciation of what I had just experienced. I decided to leave the moose lake and head home.
Considering I was so pissed-off at all of humanity mere hours before, I was stunned with the realization that the peace I was seeking at that lake did not come from an animal, but a fellow human being with a vibrant smile.
What a gift!
Until next time, continue loving life and everything wild 🙂