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Caribou Tales #5: Heading to a Gathering

Catch up on previous episodes: Episode 1  |  Episode 2 |  Episode 3 | Episode 4

Check back on the 25th of every month to read the next episode.

Carla’s calf won’t come out of the thicket. She calls him, but he has found mushrooms, several large clumps, and can’t be budged. Resigned, Carla picks a leaf off a nearby tree and walks around the bushes to watch him eat. Using his nose, the calf is flipping mushrooms over, then chewing them up, grunting happily during the process. His nose is covered in dirt. Carla longs to touch that nose with its soft fur and black tip. She reaches out, but suddenly he throws himself against a nearby tree, rubbing his head vigorously against the trunk, shutting his eyes in pure joy as he itches one then another of many insect bites.
Above a squirrel chatters, annoyed at the sudden swaying of the trunk, and startles a chipmunk that runs between Carla’s feet. Watching him walk to another group of mushrooms, Carla is thinking of the next water crossing where they can get some relief from the mosquitoes. They have spent many a summer evening swimming across lakes, watching the sky turn slowly from mid-day to dusky blue before finally plunging into darkness. The darkness comes more quickly now, and much earlier.

Feeling her gaze, Carla’s calf chews faster as though he is worried he won’t get the chance to eat all the mushrooms before they start to move again, but Carla is not in a hurry. She knows they are close to the herd now; close to their meeting point. She has heard the occasional distant grunts and bellows of her herd mates as they have slipped by in the surrounding forest. She tests the scent on the trees as she passes, where the males have stopped to rub themselves.  

Still chewing and walking slowly, Carla thinks of the gash in the forest that she and her calf had seen in August. A gash with no water running through it, but rather hard packed dirt and pointed rocks which stabbed at her feet. At first she had sought a way around, but the opening was long. Searching for a sense of security, a good spot to cross, she had skirted the gash, and come across a strong smell. A smell she recognized. She had walked over slowly to investigate, keeping her calf behind her and blocking his view. It was the body of a young male caribou. Seeing his body had made her nervous; the gash had made her nervous. Suddenly, not waiting any longer, she had called to her calf and they had run across the gash at full speed, not caring what might be on the other side. They had stopped when she could no longer smell the odd odors that lingered there, in the gash, mixing with the smell of over-turned dirt and of death.

Suddenly, she longs desperately to be with her herd again. To share her fears of the summer with them, to feel their warmth and hear their breath around her, comforting. Baby walks over to Carla and bumps her on the side. The mushroom party is over. She turns and licks his forehead. He tolerates it for several heartbeats then yawns and buries his head in her side. They stand there quietly enjoying the cool afternoon, before heading off again.

The setting sun lights up the calf until he looks almost golden walking beside her. Suddenly, the pure joy of seeing him there, sturdy and by her, makes her lift her nose in the air and call out loudly. Then she springs forward, through the woods and out into an open field. The calf imitates his mother, his mouth in a large “O” as he calls out gleefully, running behind her, waving his tail. Together they leap and twist in the air before trotting forward towards their herd.

Special thanks to Jean Polfus for the incredible artwork.

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