Splitfoot Grows Up

By Robert H. Redding

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    Splitfoot staggered back from the blow. His mother—twelve hundred pounds of angry moose—glared at him. She had just struck him with her broad chest.

    Splitfoot, only a year old, waggled his big ears. The blow had not hurt him, but he was puzzled. What’s happening? he wondered. Why is she driving me away?

    His mother rejoined her newborn calf a short distance away. The calf, a reddish colored male, had arrived in the world two days before and was still wobbly. He nuzzled his mother’s flanks, wanting to nurse.

    It was mid-May, and the north country had lost its winter drabness. The foliage was green, and leaves were budding. Splitfoot nibbled at a tuff of fresh grass, but he wasn’t really hungry. He watched his mother and the calf furtively from a clump of spruce trees.

    For a year now, his place had been by her side. She was his protector and his strength, so it was only natural for him to want to remain close to her. He started toward her again, trying not to be obvious. While he grazed, he kept angling closer to his parent. But Splitfoot couldn’t fool his mother. When he was about twenty feet away from her, she charged. This time she really smacked him, knocking him down. Then his mother ran off a little way, her hackles raised. She bawled and growled menacingly.

    When Splitfoot arose, she charged him again, leaving him sprawled on the ground. This time he just lay still, rolling his brown eyes. His mother trotted back to her calf, where she stood guard. She was nearsighted, as are all moose, but she could see her unwanted son well enough.

    Splitfoot lay quietly for a few minutes more, then he climbed painfully to his feet. The last blows had really jarred him. He moved back to the protective spruce trees and studied his mother. Although his eyesight, too, was less than perfect, his ears and nose were keen. He knew every move his mother and the newborn were making. Splitfoot was learning what all yearling moose must learn: they are not welcome when a new calf is born. His mother might have accepted his company for another year had it not been for the calf. But, by instinct, she was so protective of her helpless new offspring that she distrusted every other creature, even her oldest son.

    For the rest of the day, Splitfoot sulked in the trees. Toward evening, he went to a nearby pond for a drink. After ducking his head under the surface for a mouthful of succulent lily roots, he went back to try to find his mother. But she and the calf were gone. He searched for hours but never found them.

    Now Splitfoot would be on his own for the rest of his life. It wouldn’t be so bad, however, because he had been prepared by nature for what lay ahead. He had thirty-two good teeth, and he knew what to eat. His mother had long before weaned him. Though only a year old, he was strong. This strength would help him escape enemies he couldn’t fight. Later that summer several wolves chased him. He managed to keep ahead of them until he came to a lake. Though he hadn’t had much practice, he plunged in and swam all the way across to safety. Few animals of the north have more stamina.

    Splitfoot learned during the next few years who his enemies were, especially wolves, bears, and men. Deep snow was also an enemy. It was difficult to escape wolf packs while plunging chest deep through snowdrifts. And in wintertime, storms covered willows and cottonwood branches with ice, making it hard for him to eat. The ice cut his gums, turning his mouth bloody and raw. During one long cold spell when everything remained frozen, Splitfoot nearly starved—some moose did.

    In the summertime, the mosquitos were a great nuisance. Great swarms of them stung his nose and tender lips. They dove at his eyes and buzzed in his ears until he dashed through the forest crazily to escape them. But in spite of all these hazards, he survived.

    In his third year, the young moose grew his first spread of antlers. He also felt that he should take a mate. But older and stronger bulls drove him away from the females.

    When he was four, he did manage to mate. But first there was a terrific battle with another male who also wanted the female. They charged each other head on, their antlers cracking like thunder on impact. They shook the ground, and their eyes flashed red with anger. They tore up the ground and snapped young trees like twigs. The battle lasted for an hour, then the rival moose gave up. Splitfoot was victor. It was the first of many such battles he would have.

    After he mated, Splitfoot remained with his bride for only a short time. He was not content with only one mate, like the wolf, and in a couple of years would have a large harem.

    When Splitfoot was seven years old, he came into his full powers. He weighed eighteen hundred pounds, measured over six feet high at the shoulders, and was nearly nine feet long. His antlers weighed eighty pounds and had a spread of seventy-five inches. He was deep-chested, with muscles that rippled under his dark-colored hide. Splitfoot was a king among his kind.

    In December he would shed his antlers. This left him without an important weapon for defense. But that didn’t stop him from fearlessly roaming his fifty-square-mile range.

    Splitfoot would live for twenty years, a long time in the wilderness. But to do that, he had to outwit hunters, outrace wolves, and outlast ice storms. He didn’t worry about any of these difficulties, though, but took the days as they came.

    Illustrated by Dick Brown