LAZY MOUNTAIN -- On a recent cold night, I decided to wash some dishes.
My wife and I live in a little dry cabin up near Hatcher Pass, which is to say we don't have running water. So I put a big pot on the propane stove to heat, rousted the dogs and took the 5-gallon bucket of dirty dishwater from under the sink to go dump it in the outhouse.
I was a little over halfway there when the heavy crunching started in the snow about 15 feet away, behind a large birch tree.
The dogs, Biscuits and Slippi, had been lazing in front of the wood stove all evening and were even slower to react than me. By the time they started barking, I had already hustled ahead to the outhouse and was just starting to open the door when a second moose charged around the far side and rushed by me, so close I could have reached out and felt its fur.
The moose skidded to a stop right where I'd been walking a moment before, head lowered aggressively, threatening the dogs.
With a little distance now between us -- maybe 12 feet -- I could tell it wasn't a big moose, just a juvenile male. But I'm not a total idiot. Even a small moose can plow through a 195-pound man as if he were a sock puppet. The other small moose was now emerging from the birch stand, so my odds weren't getting any better.
It's dangerous enough to be so close to a couple of agitated animals, but what worried me most was the one I didn't see. Because at that point I hadn't determined if they were on their own or if Mom was around, maybe standing right there in my blind spot -- just beyond the thin plywood door.
I love encounters with wildlife. That's one of the main reasons my wife and I gravitate toward the rustic life in Alaska. But as much as I love gazing at wild things, I don't really relish the idea of getting trampled or kicked, so I ducked the rest of the way inside the outhouse and let the door clap shut behind me.
If you're trapped
Here's some advice if you ever find yourself trapped in an outhouse under similar circumstances:
1) Don't think about how terrible it would be if a hypothetical mama moose heard you shuffling around and kicked in the door so your wife found you after she got home and a reporter found out and wrote about it, so everyone on the planet learned your name because you died by getting kicked to death in an outhouse.
2) If possible, go back in time and bring a coat, bear spray and some mirrors on sticks that will help you quickly figure out where the moose are standing when things get chaotic outside.
3) Go ahead and empty that dishwater bucket while you're waiting, because an empty bucket is about to come in handy.
I dumped the bucket down the Hole of No Return, then stood there listening. The sounds were muffled, and I couldn't tell if they were coming from a small moose a few feet in front of the outhouse or a bigger, meaner, more maternal one getting ready to destroy the first person to pop out.
To make things worse, the dogs were barking like crazy, but not working together with any kind of wolf-like strategy that might have driven the moose away. In fact, when I cracked the door to get a peek, I could see the larger dog was now sitting over on the porch, his hackles up, acting tough. The smaller one was barking somewhere on the other side of the moose, probably behind some trees. I wanted to yell at the dogs to shut up but one of the moose was now within kicking distance of the thin outhouse door.
For 10 minutes, I stood in there, alternately holding my breath, listening, peeking out, trying to figure out if these were larger calves with their mother or adolescents experiencing the joy of messing with humans.
Punk teenage moose
Finally, I'd seen enough and convinced myself they were old enough to be on their own. But they were still too close for me to leave the outhouse. So there I continued to wait while the dogs barked and the moose meandered 3 or so feet at a time, looked around, backtracked, grunted, took another couple of steps the other way. Eventually, they got used to the ruckus and just started eating birch saplings.
That was enough. They were still closer than I liked but I wasn't going to stand there in an outhouse all night while a couple of punk teenage moose snacked.
So I opened the door and threw the empty bucket so it landed with a clatter right behind the nearest moose. They took off into the trees, maybe 20 feet before they felt safe.
I stuck my head out of the outhouse and called the dogs. Both of them came over from the porch, wary, even scared, as if that thing in the outhouse wearing the headlamp and talking with my voice might be some kind of undercover moose.
Then the three of us made the short walk back to the cabin, where the dogs continued to laze about in front of the fire and I finally got started on those dishes.
Freelance writer Shane Castle lives outside of Palmer.