Something rubbed against me. In one way it felt good. In another it was rough. At least I guess it was. I didn't know for sure because I hadn't felt much before. I do remember that I was warm and safe and cozy. The only sound was the steady thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump.
Then suddenly everything got light. Even with my eyes closed, the brightness hurt. I was no longer surrounded by a feeling of warmth and comfort. Instead, it became cold and a little scary. The steady thump-thump was replaced by all sorts of strange and frightening noises.
Something touched me. It was warm and damp. It went over my whole body until I was dry and comfortable.
"Open your eyes, my baby." The voice was soft and gentle. "Listen to your mother and open your eyes. It's time to see your new world."
Something pushed me so hard I almost tipped over. I tilted, then stretched out my front feet. Quickly I pulled my body up. My back legs were wobbly. I tried to balance, but fell into the warm bed of grass where I had been born. Mother was close. I could feel her presence, but when I tried to look at her, the light hurt my eyes. She pushed at me again.
"You have to get up," Mother warned. "The quicker you get on your feet, the safer you will be."
I opened my eyes as wide as I could. My mother was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. She had a big furry nose that was soft as could be. Her head and face were almost as long as I was. Her large ears twitched to chase away the tiny little black things that buzzed around her head.
"This feels good. I want to stay here." I flipped my ears and tried to flatten myself into the big nest.
"Come on, it's time to move. We are safe here, but you need to get on your feet!" Mother shoved me again with her beautiful soft nose.
I stretched my legs out. Everything felt wobbly again. I put my weight on my front feet, then my back feet. No matter how much I balanced or which way I moved, I couldn't stay up. Then thud, I was back on the ground.
Okay, I'll try again. Shoving my front legs out, I lifted my bottom up. Just before my back legs were steady, my front legs collapsed back into the warm nest.
"Let me rest a bit," I said as I shut my eyes.
"You have to get up and move around. The longer you wait, the more danger you are in." Mother shoved at my back end.
Move, legs. I tried to straighten my front ones again. They didn't want to cooperate. Okay. One leg. Move!
One leg slowly stretched out straight. Both front hooves were in the right position. I tried to jerk my body up. My legs didn't seem to be part of me.
I tried shoving my hooves out and pushing my rear end up at the same time. Yeah! It's working!
Blap! I hit the ground again. Something must be wrong.
I could feel Mother's big nose lifting my rear. My front hooves suddenly slipped straight out in front of me and my bottom rose up. My hind legs straightened at just the right time to balance my body. I was up. I tried to move each leg one at a time. My front ones were steady, as I took small steps toward Mother. I tried to tell my rear end to come along, too. It didn't listen. I felt wobbly, trying to make everything work together. All at once I found myself back on the ground. This is useless. I need to rest.
"Try again, little one, you can make it." Mother nudged me.
One more time I stretched out my front legs and pulled up with all of my strength. Now all four legs felt weird. I shook my body carefully as I balanced myself. Mother's soft brown eyes gave me courage.
"Let's go, baby. I know you can do it."
Carefully I made small steps with my front hooves. My back legs felt stronger as I moved them forward, too. Each small step made me feel more sturdy. I shook my whole body again. I didn't fall down!
"Hey, this is fun." I tried to bounce just a bit.
I toppled over. Back on the ground again.
"Okay. I'm ready this time. Help me just a little."
Mother gave me a soft nudge. "I think you are strong enough now, small one. Let's go!"
With one big push I was up. All of my legs worked at the same time. My body balanced over them. I was standing. My front feet popped up off the ground, but not very high.
Mother licked my fur again. It almost threw me off balance, but I managed to catch myself. Hey, I can handle this, I thought.
Mother lifted her head. She seemed very proud. "You can hop and jump soon. Right now you need to practice balancing and walking."
Mother pulled me toward her with her chin. She didn't tell me what to do. She didn't have to. I was really hungry! Something inside of me knew exactly where to go.
After dinner I felt stronger than ever. Then slowly we started walking.
"What are these?" I asked, sniffing the long pointy things beneath my feet.
"Those are pine needles," Mother answered.
"Where do they come from?"
"We live in a forest," Mother said patiently. "The pine needles and leaves come from the trees that shelter us. See up there."
I raised my head to look up. I guess I shouldn't have. My back feet must have been too close to my front feet because when I raised my head I toppled backward. I landed with a thud.
"Oops," I stammered.
Mother smiled. "It's okay. Now hop up and let's go."
"Wait, what's all that bright shiny stuff up there?"
"Above the trees with all the pine needles and leaves on them."
"That's the sky," Mother answered. "The sky is blue and the leaves are green and the trees are brown."
I felt my eyes roll. This is a lot to remember.
I took a step but almost fell again when my hoof tripped over something.
"That's a really big leaf," I gasped.
"That's a limb," Mother corrected. "Limbs are brown like the trees. They fall to the forest floor sometimes, too."
I felt my head hang low when I sighed.
"There's so much to see and to remember. I'll never get it all straight."
Mother's soft brown eyes seemed to twinkle. She licked me with her warm tongue. "It just takes time," she said. "You haven't even been here an hour yet. You're doing very well."
A loud tap-tap-tap made my ear twitch and turn toward the sound. Mama looked down at me.
"Listen. Do you hear that sound?" she asked.
Both my ears perked in the direction where I heard the noise. The loud tapping came from a tree above us.
"What is it?" I stretched my neck to see better. This time I didn't fall on my bottom.
"That's a woodpecker. When you hear her tapping, that means you are safe. When she is quiet, you need to be very alert for danger."
I stepped over logs and limbs without getting my legs tangled up. I followed Mother farther into the trees. I couldn't see her pretty face when I was behind her. All I could see were her long legs. I stayed close enough to touch them every now and then with my nose. Being close to Mother made me feel safe.
"Where are we going? I want to go back home." I was getting tired.
"You are home. The whole forest is our home. As long as you listen and watch carefully, you are safe here. You have to know the danger sounds and the safe places to go when something isn't right." Mother turned around. Her big nose grazed my neck. She gently blew warm air against me. I felt safe and secure.
"You do need to choose a name. We have to decide what we are going to call you. That is one of the first things a baby moose must do." Mother nuzzled me again.
"How do I choose? I just got here. How can I pick a name?" I looked up into Mother's big brown eyes.
"It's important that your name fits you. That it is something you recognize and feel good about." Mother let out a snort. "Stay here in the tall grass. You can think about it a little more while I get some nice soft pond weeds."
I lay down, as I was told. When Mother started to walk away, I tried to struggle to my feet.
"You're not leaving me, are you?"
"I'll be very close. You can see me in the water over there." Mother was calm as she slowly walked away.
Folding my legs, I nestled into the soft grass. Mother walked quietly into the pond. I watched as she moved through the water. Suddenly she disappeared. I stretched my neck trying to see her. All that was left was the swirling water where she had disappeared. I felt very alone. Then Mother's bottom popped up above the surface. I tilted my head to one side. She must be eating something under the water, I thought. As I started to go help her, she raised her head and looked at me. Water poured from her chin and cheeks. A long strand of grass hung from her mouth.
While I lay quietly, Mother continued to drop into the water, looking for tender bits of pond weed. Her bottom would pop to the surface, then her head would follow. I worried about her at first, then I knew that she was okay.
I rested my head on my front legs. Closing my eyes, I listened to the sounds of the forest. I knew that I must become familiar with each noise in my new home.
As days went by I found that my mother was right. Just as she had told me, I began to learn the calls of many forest birds. The little things that buzzed around our heads were bugs. Mother called them flies. Sometimes they were hungry. When they bit my ears, it hurt -- but not too bad. Other times they tickled when they landed in my fur. Mostly, except for the buzzing sounds, I never even noticed them. There were other bugs in the grass and weeds. They all made different sounds and did different things. Mother was right. I was learning a lot. Still...
The name thing really bothered me.
Copyright © 2001 by Bill Wallace and Carol Wallace
Interior illustrations copyright © 2001 by John Steven Gurney