I was thirteen when we moved north, below the thick forest that sits washed by the winds and waves of Hudson Bay. I dreamed of becoming a wildlife conservationist, like Grey Owl, or a forest ranger that spent their days tasting blueberries and stoking bonfires.
My father grew up along the Bay, and after my mother was mugged while walking home from choir practice, decided it was time to take his family out of the big city for good.
Before leaving, my grandmother gave me Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, and with a twinkle in her eye told me to write about my own adventures. Conscious of my existence as the dorky girl with bad acne and few friends, I accepted the challenge with gusto. If my classmates didn’t know me then, they would surely read about me in the newspaper’s literary column.
My younger sister, Sarah, was much less inspired about the move, and cried for weeks about leaving her friends and “boyfriend”. With hidden envy, I told her that eleven-year-olds don’t have real relationships, and scoffed when she stormed outside to sit by the pool. Boys had yet to reach my radar, and unless they wanted to discuss karate or Indiana Jones, I saw little value in them.
The new house was exactly as I dreamed it would be; a log exterior with a wood stove and stone chimney running up its side. It sat on a hill overlooking the Bay, and every which way was filled with sloping shale and gently rolling hills covered in long grass. The water rolled against the rocky shores in huge whitecaps, and created a black line along the horizon.
My father warned us to not get too used to the temperate July climate, and I shuddered trying to envision those waves and wind during the winter months. As a mineralogist, he’d found work with a mining company, and my mother was able to secure a clerical job in the same office. During the summer weeks, when they left for work in our old, beat up Caravan, Sarah and I would wander the grassy hills in search of excitement. We often ended up near a slow moving creek that emptied into the Hudson, searching for fish and tadpoles to study and poke at with twigs.
“Stay clear of the water,” our parents warned us, and understandably so. The mighty waves were cold and unforgiving, and even without being told, Sarah and I shared a common fear of their pounding force. But that summer was so hot and filled with thick swarms of black flies that the water’s edge seemed to soften a bit.
On one afternoon, while embarking on our daily roving of the adjacent lands, Sarah moaned, “I hate it here,” as she frequently did. I rolled my eyes and tossed her a stick so that we could at least pretend to be real explorers hacking through the jungle. And then, in the distance, appearing as a dark brown phantom, we spotted a monstrous creature moving along the water’s edge.
“Come on, let’s get closer!” I whispered. Sarah protested, though didn’t hesitate to follow as I moved closer to the shore. Like great hunters, we walked silently amongst the brush, and as we neared the creature, it stiffly turned its antlered head as though catching wind of our scent. I had never in my life seen such a magnificently statured animal.
“A moose,” I declared, proud that my frequent examination of National Geographic had finally become useful.
Sarah giggled behind me. “It’s so ugly!”
As we crouched near a boulder, it also bent down, snatching mouthfuls of weeds with its powerful jaw. A moment of tranquility passed between our two worlds, sealed by the ambiance of nearby waves. And then, as if on queue, Sarah’s hand disturbed a snake sunning itself on the rock, and she screamed bloody murder. I slapped my hand across her lips, mouthing “IDIOT” in muted terror.
At first, the moose just held its head very still, turning its eyes slightly upward so that only the whites were visible. I stood slowly, grabbing Sarah by the wrist, and pushed her backwards towards the Bay. It watched us closely, moving its display of horns from side to side, and began to follow us at a calculated pace.
I wasn’t sure whose hand was trembling more, but knew our options were dwindling upon reaching the embankment that sat about four feet above the waves. The creature lowered its head, and then raised it, with huffed discretion. I suddenly realized I still had the stick from earlier, and lifted my arm as high as I could. I swatted in midair and boldly instructed it to “SCRAM!”
Another thing I learned that day was that moose do not respond well to instruction. After a moment of processing, it lowered its head again, this time breaking out in a gallop directly towards us. Channeling every ounce of Jack London and Indy that I could, I screamed and quickly pushed Sarah into the water before jumping in myself.
Despite the warm breeze, the water temperature stung my skin and stole my breath. I surfaced just in time to see the great creature veer and race off in the opposite direction. I paddled for a moment, smiling at the absurdity of the situation, before noticing Sarah’s absence.
I spun at least three times, certain she must be playing some sort of trick, before the panic really set in. Ducking my head beneath the water, I scanned the murky depths for any sign of her, but could barely see past my own feet. Helplessly screaming her name, I dove down, and blindly scanned the surrounding space with my fingertips.
Just as I was about to get out and head for the telephone, I felt a tug on my right sandal. Stretching my arms down, I took a deep gulp of air, and found her snagged by the shorts on a sunken tree trunk. Though she was growing weak, I helped her tear the fabric just in time to pull us both up into the sunlight. She sputtered and coughed, immediately bursting into tears.
“I almost died!” She wailed, embracing me tightly as we eventually touched bottom and dragged ourselves back up over the embankment. We lay in the grass, free of our antlered attacker, and sucked in the glorious air.
As our breathing calmed, a grin crept across my face once more. “Twice,” I finally said. “You almost died twice.”
She sat up and wrung the muddy water from her soaked t-shirt. “I really hate it here, you know.”
I propped myself up on an elbow before replying, “I know. But you’re going to have some great stories.”
Jenny Davies lives in Canada’s Great North teaching and exploring with her husband and children. She hopes to one day swim with Narwhals.