They come out at night. Big, voracious creatures intent on feasting in your garden. It's no story to scare small children, although they can be every Alaska gardener's nightmare: Moose.
Moose need plenty to eat all year long. In fact, they need about 30-60 pounds of food a day. Willow and aspen trees are among their favorites. Tulips and lilacs are especially tasty treats. This season a yearling who has decided he likes our neck of the woods has taken out ferns and bergenia, and did a real number on a wild plum tree. "They'll eat anything!" says Marge, our neighbor and resident garden expert.
When I first moved to Alaska, Marge advised me to remove the willow from my yard, as it's especially attractive to them. When I balked at the task, I was told it was easy: Just tie the trunk of the tree to my car and drive away, tree, roots and all! Now that's a true Alaskan solution for you!
For years Marge had observed a particular moose mama every spring as she'd bring her latest calf around to teach it what was good to eat up and down the street. Being a neighborhood of avid gardeners, there were plenty of delicacies to be had. "Eat this here," the mama seemed to say, and, "Now, eat this one here."
One day a calf was taught a new lesson - by Marge this time, who spied the munchers in her backyard. The mama moose had moved on, but Marge caught the calf in mid-bite. She yelled, "YOU PUT THAT PLANT DOWN!" The calf startled and its expression almost said, "Mom, you didn't tell me how to handle this one!"
The happy ending? Once the calf ran away, Marge successfully returned the plant to its home in the dirt.
Connie, another gardener in the 'hood, relates a similar story: "I was watching and tending a neighbor's small garden while she was away. I kept the little patch weeded and watered. Her only cabbage was getting big and beautiful and I knew she would be happy with it. The evening before she returned, a moose came and plucked that cabbage right out, roots and all. I forgot myself for a second and started running after the moose, making lots of noise. I got close enough to see the mosquitoes hovering over its hair; then I came to my senses and realized I was too close for comfort and better run the other direction!"
I haven't been gardening in Alaska long enough to have lost anything really precious - yet. This year I planted tulips for the first time in my life and they are coming up nicely. But every morning I venture out fully expecting that Mr. Yearling will have devoured them in the night, just before they can bloom. If it happens, I'll probably be disappointed. And I'll regret I didn't get the chance to teach him a lesson in the manner of Marge and Connie. The lesson I'd teach? "HEY YOU! Here's the dandelion patch. Now get busy!"