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  • Writer's pictureJenna Gustafson

A Moose Encounter

I'm so happy to finally bring this 36x36 oil painting into existence as the idea for it has been haunting me for years! Here's the story behind it:

In 2013 I accidentally snapped the best photo I've ever taken in my life between strides while practically running behind my dad to keep up with his brisk pace as we backpacked somewhere in the Beartooth Mountains. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to truly capture the feel of a moment from another world with a camera, I believe, and somehow I managed it, just this one time.

Six years later, I had my Mom go digging through hundreds of mountainous landscape photos in our home computer, and I'm happy to report that she found THE PHOTO (pictured above)! And while I knew this image was special for some reason, I wanted to add even more significance to the magic I had taken from the forest, and of course it could be no other animal than the moose.

The first time I ever saw a moose was at a lake similar to this painting, about 16 miles deep into the backcountry of Montana. I was happily sleeping in my tent, soaking up the warmth of the sun after a frigid night, when through my dreamland haze I felt the ground rumble with the sound of a galloping horse. Wondering what a horse was doing at a dead run way out in the wilderness, I unzipped my tent and peered into the glaring sunlight and was startled to see a young bull moose galloping full tilt for my tent, about 20 feet away and closing fast, running in blind panic from some campers' dogs who chased the moose out of the lake with primal delight.

I couldn't move, still filled with sleep paralysis and frozen with awe for the power of this creature. With one second to go before trampling me to death, the moose swerved around my tent like a professional barrel racing thoroughbred and found its escape in the forest beyond.

I was breathless. It was awesome.

This special connection to moose was reinforced this past fall towards the end of a long season of elk hunting. We hadn't even seen an elk on that particular weekend thanks to an ultra marathon racing through the area (just our luck lol). Nevertheless, we had managed to find some promising areas to watch in our blind wanderings through the woods, and in a last ditch effort, decided to watch a specific marshy meadow at dawn.

According to plan, my husband, Colton, sat at the mouth of the meadow facing north, and I hid in a dead tree several feet away to watch the south entrance. We became statues in the dark with our instant coffee, waiting for the sun to come up and bring the shadows to life.

After about an hour of absolute stillness, I saw movement in the trees directly across from me, and the thing that moved was big. Like really big. Frantically, I tried to signal Colton to the activity without moving or speaking too loud, thinking it might be the ever elusive elk, but to no avail. He couldn't see them.

With extreme caution, the shadows slowly stepped out into the meadow. And once again, I was face to face with a 2,000 lb animal which stood merely a few feet away. Actually, there were two of them, a mama moose and her baby calf.

Ears swiveling, the mother stared directly at me for 20 STRAIGHT MINUTES while the calf flopped down for a nap next to her without a care in the world. Their breath steamed in the golden air, muscles moving over the marshy ground in a pure display of elegance and strength.

And so, I painted this, to remember and savor the intricacies of these magical moose moments. How do you remember landscapes of significance to you?


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