Hello, Neighbor

Even after living in Alaska for the better part of a decade, it still surprises me to run into my nonhuman neighbors when I step outside my house.

To be fair, that’s not an occurrence I experienced for the majority of my life. Growing up in a metropolitan area on the East Coast, you might see some squirrels raiding your bird feeder or hear geese honking loudly through the sky. We reportedly had local deer populations, but I only ever saw the occasional set of roadkill remains in the ditch on the commute home.

Alaska is rich with wildlife, a fact that I don’t think I’ll ever take for granted. I’ve seen grizzly bears in the autumn in Kodiak, wading into a creek running below the bridge on which my van was parked. I met a lynx in an alder stand bordering a pond while camping near Soldotna; thankfully it ran off in the other direction when I surprised it. I regularly run into great bald eagles at the Homer recycling center; they’re much bigger up close than when they’re circling clouds.

My own backyard often feels like a nature reserve. We still have a plethora of squirrels, little red ones that chatter up a storm and chase each other up and down, up and down, up and down the spruce trees filling up the space around my house. They’re as entertaining to watch as the latest season of “The Umbrella Academy,” and nearly just as crazy.

Our resident porcupine, whom I’ve named Spruce (yes, because he’s prickly, like gripping a spruce branch barehanded, except probably worse) makes intermittent appearances beginning in the spring all the way through fall. He’s very chill. He’ll sit on his haunches and pluck dandelion leaves by the fistful, bringing them up to his mouth and chewing methodically, completely ignoring me taking as many photos as possible all the while.

The neighbor that brings me the most joy, though, is the mama moose that uses our surrounding woods as a nursery. She returns year after year, often with twins, and she’ll introduce the new calf or calves by spring. As the weather warms into summer and descends again into fall, I watch the calves grow into their awkward limbs and inch toward becoming gangly yearlings.

Mama moose is long used to coexisting with us, and the calves are born into knowing they have permanent neighbors. Even so, I’ve long made a habit of checking the area immediately outside my front door when leaving the house so as not to surprise anyone (including myself) unnecessarily.

When the moose come by for a visit, they’re most often found near the front of the property among a particular stand of alders or in the side woods stripping the willow bushes. Sometimes, though, they like to rest under the spruce that shades my front porch.

That was the case earlier this week. I’d just gotten home and was walking up the porch steps when the sound of a branch cracking made me freeze. Ten feet to my right, a young moose was biting off an alder branch, mama moose curled up under the spruce nearby.

“Oh! Hello,” I said.

Mama moose turned her head and glanced at me out of the corner of her eye. I waved in response. She snorted and looked away. The young moose paid no attention at all, intent on eating her lunch. Of course I took several photos.

I’m grateful for my moose neighbors, and Spruce the porcupine, and even the rascally squirrels that, come spring, I can hear running the length of my roof at all hours of the day. If nothing else, the photos make for great bragging rights to my friends living in the Lower 48: “Look who came to visit today!”

More than that, their presence is a joy — a giddy delight in summer and a balm in the lonely winters. Like old friends, I miss them when they’re gone too long. It’s certainly a surprise to find a moose on your front porch, but a pleasant and thrilling one, nonetheless.

Photo by Delcenia Cosman/Homer News
An adult female moose rests in the snow under a spruce tree Jan. 18 in Anchor Point.

Photo by Delcenia Cosman/Homer News An adult female moose rests in the snow under a spruce tree Jan. 18 in Anchor Point.