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How to Milk a Moose

Clyde tossed the loop over the moose's head where it slipped down onto her neck and then he took off south. The moose reared up on her hind legs in a Hi Ho Silver maneuver. Folks back on the lodge deck reached for their cell phones. That's the American way to handle a crisis nowadays. Grab a phone, first.

"Somebody's gonna have to start talking about these things." -- Bullwinkle

I'm not certain how Clyde Walsowski-Smith first heard about moose cheese. I suspect the information came from one of his horn hunting buddies, those guys looking to get rich off nature's leftovers. However Clyde got the word, when told the stuff sells for $500 a pound, he decided he absolutely had to milk a moose.

"You squeeze out a gallon a session," he fairly shouted at me. "That's seven pounds a day times 500 a pound."

I considered his level of seriousness. "Does a pound of milk translate into a pound of cheese?"

"It only makes sense. I even found a market -- a Beverly Hills cheese shop, south of Little Santa Monica Boulevard. Those movie people will pay whatever it costs to buy a product normal people can't afford."

"You think moose cheese tastes like $500 a pound?"

"Taste doesn't mean squat in the rare food business. Exclusivity is the only factor. Nobody would touch caviar if McDonalds gave it away in a Happy Meal."

Three of us signed up for the mission -- Clyde, Roger Ramsey, and me. At the last moment, Roger's girlfriend Maurey decided to come along.

"I'll record the historic feat on my iPhone," she said. "We'll post Clyde's death on YouTube and make him famous for a day."

Clyde said, "Milking moose never killed anyone. All you need is rubber gloves and a bucket."

As this had the makings of a fiasco, I went home and researched. I mean, we're not fools in Wyoming. There's a point where bravery and stupidity overlap, and the brave person is the one who has done his research.

Here's the rundown: Currently, there are two commercial moose milk operations. The first, in Russia, only supplies milk for medicinal purposes. Moose milk -- 12% fat, 12% protein, 21.5% solids such as selenium and zinc -- is served at your upscale sanatoriums and given to kids with gastroenterological diseases. Think organic Milk of Magnesia.

All the moose cheese in the world -- before Clyde anyway -- comes from three moose named Gullen, Haelga, and Juna, who live on a farm near Bjurshelm, Sweden. The fact that the moose have names made me suspect they might be domesticated. I mentioned this to Clyde.

He came back with the pithiest line he could think up, considering he's a man without insurance. "So what?"

My other qualm surfaced when I read that moose only produce milk the first three months after they've given birth.

"Female moose with calves tend to irritability," I said. "Even more so than the average bull in rut."

Roger had an answer, of course. "They only get pissed when you threaten the calf and we're not milking the calf. We're milking the mother. What's she going to do -- call Bob Barker?"

The moose Clyde chose to milk live in the willow flats between Jackson Lake Lodge and Jackson Lake. He knew one would be simple to find there because the Park Service herds a few exhibition moose within sight of the back deck at the lodge for wealthy tourists with expensive camera get-ups. I advanced the idea that the rangers might object to public moose abuse.

Clyde barked. "There's no law against milking a moose in the Park."

"There's no law against giving a grizzly bear a root canal either but that doesn't make it a dandy thing to do. The rangers fly off the handle when idiots die in front of tourists."

Clyde outfitted the men with horses. Mine was an appaloosa named Nellie, just like the horse Little Joe rode in Bonanza. Clyde promised she'd been trained to haul out-of-state children so I was safe as Grandpa on a Barcalounger.

I patted her spotted face. "Has she been trained in roping moose?"

"It's an instinct with appaloosa. The Spaniards bred them for the bull ring," which may make sense to you but I missed the connection. Maurey hiked in on foot, for filming flexibility. She had no intention of approaching an actual wild animal.

She said, "If she stomps your head, don't expect me to say 'Tut, tut, poor baby.' You guys deserve whatever happens."

Roger said, "Thanks, honey."

Clyde brought his pistol because that's legal now, in Grand Teton Park, and he does enjoy flaunting his rights.

"You planning to shoot a moose in front of that gang of hedge fund babies at Jackson Lake Lodge?" Maurey asked.

"If I'm in imminent danger it will be legal as drinking beer."

"If a jerk yanks a moose's tit I'd say imminent danger is a guarantee."

As any cowboy knows, the secret to roping a wild beast bigger than a badger is triangulation. It takes three ropes and three horses who can back up quick and stand steady. The last Saturday afternoon in June found Roger, Clyde, and me triangulating a mama moose in the willows a hundred yards out from Jackson Lake Lodge's picture windows. Maurey stood off to the rear, learning how to use her phone's zoom feature.

The moose eyed us as she chewed something wet, green, and stringy, not so much nervous as watchful. The calf huddled close to her side, more hungry than scared. National Park moose have no inborn fear of humans.

Clyde zipped in first, twirling his lariat and charging straight at her. He tossed the loop over her head where it slipped down onto her neck and then he took off south. The mother moose reared up on her hind legs in a Hi Ho Silver maneuver. Folks back on the lodge deck reached for their cell phones. That's the American way to handle a crisis nowadays. Grab a phone, first.

Clyde hollered at Roger and me to get our ropes on her and sooner beat the heck out of later. Roger went in crouched low in the saddle. He dropped his loop to the ground, the moose came down with her right front hoof encircled, and Roger's horse ran north with speed.

That left me and I've never roped so much as a fence post, but with them pulling hard in opposite ways, I got off Nellie and waded into the fray. I had to round the calf, which seemed to hack off the mother even more than two ropes yanking on her.

"You sure this is how they do in Sweden?" I asked.

Clyde said, "Get a noose on her while she's still calm."

I threw my loop just as the moose reared upright again and, by some miracle that proves God vacations in Wyoming, I snagged her by that dangly thing that hung down from her throat. On a turkey, it's called a wattle. I don't know what it's called on a moose, except on males they're big and on females they're little. I yanked like setting the hook on a trout and ran hell bent for Nellie. The moose charged after me. Have you ever seen a dog on a clothesline lead chase a cat? She went from full throttle to flipped over in a heartbeat, then she bounced back upright while I mounted Nellie and wrapped the rope snug around her saddle horn.

Maurey called, "I missed your throw, Tim. You mind doing it again?"

I glanced over at the Lodge deck in time to see the arrival of a pair of Park rangers. Numerous witnesses pointed my way. The rangers appeared to have lost their sense of humor.

Clyde hollered at Maurey. "I'm busy here. You'll have to take the bucket and milk her."

Maurey looked from Clyde to the calf to our audience on their cell phones to the bucket at her feet and back to the moose whose eyes bulged to the point where they threatened to pop out and splatter somebody.

Maurey said, "Like hell. I'm no milkmaid."

Clyde said something ugly about women's lib, burnt bras, and braided armpits, then he dismounted, stomped over to Maurey, snatched up the bucket and walked toward the moose, only by now I wouldn't call Clyde's gait a stomping. It was more like tiptoeing in cowboy boots.

He cooed, "Nice moosey, Gentle moosey."

Amazingly enough, the moose stood her ground, kind of trembling, while Clyde knelt at her side. I think the flip had her discombobulated.

Clyde said, "Cheese is too complicated. I'm leaning toward a line of moose ice cream."

He slid on his latex gloves, placed the bucket in position, leaned his forehead to her flank, took hold of her udder and squeezed.

In the upshot, I flew off Nellie's back end and my saddle flew off the front. The calf ran blindly through Maurey, knocking her into marsh water and voiding the warranty on the iPhone. More than one observer up at the Lodge screamed. Roger cut his losses by cutting his rope.

As far as I know, to this day there's a moose dragging Roger's rope by one leg and my saddle by her throat dangle through the willow flats of Jackson Lake. The rangers refused to tell me what became of her. They weren't as courteous as you expect rangers to be.

We're having a charity fundraiser at the Virginian Bar and Lounge Sunday next, in the evening. All the cheap beer and hot wings you can consume for thirty bucks. Proceeds go to Clyde's rehabilitation, which has been as extensive as you would expect.


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