“Of Moose and Me: Animal Tales from an Alaskan Childhood”
Author: K. Brenna Wardell
Publisher: Corpus Callosum Press
Price: $15.00 (Paper)
Brenna Wardell teaches film and literature at the University of North Alabama and is, therefore, officially an Alabama writer.
Like many of us, however, Wardell has migrated here from elsewhere, in this case the far-away and mostly unknown Alaska.
“Of Moose and Me” is a memoir, stories from her childhood, and rather nostalgic.
Although Alabama and Alaska are close together every four years for a moment at the national political conventions’ call for votes, they are in most other ways rather far apart.
A volume of short, nonfiction pieces, with somewhat more mythic, darker animal poems as inter-chapters, “Moose and Me” is not “Walden” or “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” overtly philosophical, an invitation to contemplate eternity or infinity.
These are, rather, anecdotes, fond glimpses, of her girlhood years.
There was, of course, a moose.
Alaska is full of moose.
“When I was a child there were always moose around, often when you least expected them. For example, trying to get our car down the driveway we’d often find a moose dozing in the middle of the gravel, perfectly unconcerned about the humans….”
They are oddly beautiful, varieties of brown, sometimes ungainly, sometimes graceful, usually placid but with their huge size, giant racks and massive shoulders capable of injuring or killing a human who messes with them. But they are capable of gratitude.
Wardell got to know an orphan moose named Bullwinkle who was raised by humans, then grew up and left, but returned one day, a huge male, to give his foster father a big wet kiss.
There are dog stories, of course, Alaskan dogs as adorable but no wiser than dogs anywhere.
The family raised hens, for eggs, and these hens were prey to hawks. Wardell writes: “Once, when I was quite small, a hawk took one of our chickens right in front of me.”
Nature is everywhere red in tooth and claw but in Alaska one may see it up close.
Other birds showed a more playful side of nature. She writes of coming upon ptarmigans at play: “small round birds with feathered feet,” “sliding again and again down a gentle slope of snow.”
There are a couple of stories about keeping goats, which are smarter, more devious and cunning than one might think. They will eat any flower garden they can reach, butt you from behind and plot and patiently execute escapes. They like to get on top of cars, as if they were rock outcroppings in some mountain range.
Ponies, like goats, can be evil little creatures. They look adorable but will bite and kick out of meanness. Wardell suggests these smaller creatures may have more “concentrated wickedness.”
Most of these little tales have an anthropomorphic bent, with animals displaying human traits, some charming, some not.
Of course there are black bears and one is wise to keep a distance, especially if it is a mother with cubs.
Salmon is so common in Alaska that Wardell and her family got tired of eating it. She misses the fresh fish now, even though the memories of enjoying salmon are mixed with memories of cleaning them, hard, dirty work in a cannery.
“Of Moose and Me” is a readable, quiet book. These gentle stories contain no murders, child abuse, drug addiction or explosions. There is no particular political or social ax to grind, no cause to enlist in. No one, neither moose nor man, will be offended.