A Sense of Space
by Mary Tevebaugh

Everything was calm and peaceful as I cruised away from the city. My car, Betsy, smoothly avoided the pot holes in the narrowing highway. Both Betsy and I were showing the wear of time, a few dents and bruises and things that needed fixing, but like the rabbit commercial, we just kept on going. Frames and art tablets filled the back seat. The beautiful day and mountain scenery were not meant to be wasted with worry. I lived in an isolated small mountain town and during the summer months the 100-mile trip for shopping or doctor appointments was more an escape than a necessity. It was early evening, but it would stay light for several more hours

It wasn’t long before Betsy and I were driving on an almost deserted road. I had the freedom to drive at the speed of my choice -- slowing down to a peaceful pace would not hinder traffic, on the other hand, the speed limit was 70 and highway patrolmen scarce. The freedom of choice perked me up, but the steep hills slowed poor Betsy down.

Sometimes you become so familiar with a car and its ways that it seems almost human, but I wasn’t eccentric enough to start talking to my car. I don’t own a cell phone, but it didn’t matter, I wouldn’t be able to call out from this area anyway. The radio was mostly static, so I pushed in a tape, turned up the volume and joined Willie in a chorus of "On the Road Again." Neil Diamond was standing by to take over when Willie and I finished. I was alert, enjoying the smells of pristine air and absorbing the awesome sight of snow-capped mountains. There was also an innate sense of alertness for the possible dangers of deer or logging trucks that might suddenly loom out from nowhere. Yes, everything was calm and peaceful when suddenly panic overtook every fiber of my body.

The creature stood at least nine feet tall. His legs were bowed and he seemed planted on the highway; rooted just as solidly into the ground as the giant Tamarack trees on the side of the road. Two red angry looking eyes glared at me. My mind went into instinct mode and the adrenalin pushed my foot against the brake pedal already to the floor. By the time my car had skidded to a stop near the edge of the road, the gigantic moose had somehow vanished just as suddenly as he had appeared. Goose bumps ran up and down my shaking body as I sat in amazement looking for an opening in the trees where he had gone. I saw nothing but a mass of lodge pole pine and tangled brush so thick that it blackened the still sunlit air.

I didn’t want to move my unsteady limbs, I wanted to wait and see if he would return. I had grown up knowing one doesn’t stop on a hill on a winding narrow highway unless it was an extreme emergency, so I slowly guided Betsy to the next turnout. I pulled off the road, took a deep breath and slumped in the seat. My eyes closed and my body insisted on having a moment to relax and reunite all of the disoriented muscle and nerve connections.

Once my coordination returned, I needed to get out of the car and walk around a little bit, although I knew he was probably miles away by now, I watched and listened for the moose. My alarm and tension gave way to the thrill of the awesome experience. A moose sighting was not what you would call rare in this area, but it was infrequent enough to be a thrill; if I had hit him, he definitely would have suffered less damage than Betsy. My memory relived the scene.

The antlers alone would have been impressive. They reminded me of Herculean hands, curved to allow for picking up a banquet of food, yet so precise they could just as easily pick up a fragile spray of ferns. Golden rays from the sun had highlighted the edges emphasizing the artistic design. The blend of Baroque curves and Victorian filigree molded to the top of his head to create a regal crown. He was not a beautiful creature like the deer or elk I had seen more frequently along the road, but there was a sense of wonder to the power he so gracefully carried. His presence bestowed the sense of a creature with dauntless courage. His body had a clumsy almost comical quality to it and yet he could move with such smooth motion. His ability to suddenly fade into his environment added a mystic touch to his character. The moose sometimes displayed a playful quality and yet I had heard stories enough to agree with many people from the area that a moose could be just as dangerous as a grizzly, partially because they were even less predictable. Few creatures challenged its strength, but the moose had no qualms about attacking any irritant obstacle in view.

Seeing such a massive barrier in my surroundings would have normally driven me to flight, but for some reason this time it made me feel brave. It was almost like there was a message for me. I felt compelled to wander down a worn animal trail I found at the edge of the turnout. Brave, but not foolhardy, I checked for signs of a large animal. My nose sniffing for that musty smell often present before the sight of a large animal, my ears listening for the fearless chatter of smaller creatures. The trail had an abundance of deer tracks, but none fresh and there were no moose, cougar or bear tracks so I felt safe enough to walk into the woods.

I told myself that I wouldn’t walk far and immediately thoughts of my responsibilities at home started to battle against my sense of adventure. Would my packages be safe in my car? Had the UPS man left the package I was expecting to be delivered? Had I spent too much money shopping? What if I had hit the moose? I had no emergency funds set aside. Guilt suddenly crept in with the other emotions that were swirling around in my head or heart or both. I wished I had someone with me; was it safe to be alone? I wondered if I missed any important phone calls while away. Taking a day of sick leave for a routine checkup was legitimate, but guilt always seemed to take away from the sense of freedom of enjoying the extra time. Work hours were over, but I would still have to explain why I was out in the woods if something happened. I thought about the snide remarks the boss would make about how everyone else had to work so hard because I had taken a day off. Here I was in the middle of God’s country worrying about unimportant or imagined trifles. I knew I was being silly and started down the trail.

Thoughts of the moose again brought the feeling that there was a reason for me to walk down the trail. Deep breaths of the crisp, fresh air sharpened my awareness of my surroundings. I closed my eyes, took in a deep breath and suddenly could smell the magic of the pine-scented forest. I felt a sense of connection with the space. My senses became alert and alive. The aroma of wildflowers started to mingle with the mountain perfume. My ears harkened to the musical sounds of breezes gently playing with the leaves, birds chirping and squirrels chattering. The mulch of dried pine needles, moss and leaves felt like lush carpet to my feet. An occasional snap of a twig and kicking of a pine cone announced my presence to the animals silently watching me invade their territory. The air became cooler and a familiar sound came to my attention. It was the sound of flowing water. I knew a creek was not far ahead.

I had not walked far, but was in a totally different world. I picked up a dried, worn walking stick and soon found a smooth, water-worn boulder to sit on and sway to the bubbling music of the creek. I felt like I was sitting in the midst of invisible fairies and elves who were laughing and welcoming me to their home. I was flooded with a feeling of a spiritual connection with God, at the same time a closeness to Mother Earth and the light-hearted humor of magical creatures. I closed my eyes for a moment, forgot all of my worries and cares and felt total peace.

I opened my eyes and checked my watch, thinking I had been away for hours, but only five minutes had passed. During that brief time I had been renewed and knew that a healing process had taken place. I felt a shifting in my body. In this strange unfamiliar spot I suddenly felt like I belonged. I didn’t want to leave, but I didn’t have to stay. I had made a connection with the earth and at the same time I felt a new power and courage.

After a few moments of peace and rest, I started back down the trail toward my car. I looked up at the towering, majestic trees, I felt no fear at the possible presence of animals much larger than myself. I felt very small and insignificant, but at the same time I felt a part of something powerful beyond my imagination. No matter how small, I was a part of something larger than a dream. I was alive.

Returning to the turnout, I found Betsy untouched and unchanged, but she faithfully started when I turned the key. As we moved to the edge of the turnout, I took one last look at the dark, tangled mass of trees across the highway. Suddenly a shadow appeared, followed by a loud crash. The trees parted and the massive body of the moose appeared on the road. The warm, brown eyes hypnotized me, and I saw the reflection of the pool I had sat near. The massive crown of antlers lowered as though he were giving a bow to tell me goodbye. He then glided across the highway and blended into the deep green forest.

Mary earned her BA with honors at the University of Montana and has recently retired from the Salish Kootenai College after 13 years. where she taught early childhood development and was assistant librarian. She also worked with the Forest Service and doing odd jobs in exotic places. Mother of six children, she now has seven grandchildren. Writing and watercolor painting are her other passions.  See her work displayed at Evergreen Gallery, www.evergreen2.com and on her own site. Published work includes Circle of the Infant, a culturally related infant curriculum; and Children of the Flathead, a brochure developed for the Salish Kootenai College, an article "Jerry" published in the Tribal College Journal; "Home Town Dying published in the Prairie Band Potawatomi News and several stories in Long Story Short.  Contact Mary.