A Moose for Jesus

by Patricia S. Bowne

It was a warm August evening in ’72 and we were sitting around Holland Wales’ backyard waiting for the grill to heat up and talking about the moose, when his big dog Boomer came out and took a dump right in the middle of the circle of chairs. Normally Boomer wouldn’t get away with this because Holland’s wife Judy would be on him in two seconds, but Judy and the other wives were inside dishing up potato salad and gossip. So we sat around and commented and cheered Boomer on as he concentrated, and set his jaw, and strained, and finally produced. It only stopped being funny when the smell started to hit us.

Holland looked around the circle, but we all looked somewhere else. When things like this happened Boomer was Holland’s dog, though most other times he belonged to the whole True Faith Christian Community. After a few minutes Holland gave up and got some paper and went in to clean it up. He leaned forward and then he froze.

“Look!” said Holland. “It’s a miracle!”

“What’s a miracle?” asked Winston Williams from my left, and I leaned forward to look round Holland.

“It’s growing!” Holland said, in a hushed voice. “It’s a miracle!” and sure enough we could all see the pile Boomer had left getting bigger and bigger. It had almost doubled in size. “Judy!” hollered Holland, before any of us could think to stop him.

It turned out the dog had eaten a sponge, but I’ve thought about that story more often in the years since than any other. Because it’s like Winston says, you can make all the arguments about it that people make about miracles like childbirth and sunrise, and more besides; just try it, and see if within five minutes you aren’t deep in God’s sense of humor versus human vanity, and the radical humility of the incarnation.

At the time, though, we laughed and let it go, and after Holland had cleaned it up, we went back to talking about the moose. The wives all agreed about the moose, that it was a helpless little thing and ought to be left alone. Hunters took plenty of bad-mouthing from them, but that didn’t bother any of us. We’d heard it before. We did a lot of it ourselves, in fact, because most of the hunters drove up to our town from Pittsburgh and barely knew enough to un-cock their guns before throwing them in the back seat with the kids. That wasn’t the point about the moose, anyway. The point about the moose was that it talked.

The way it happened was this. Henry Cram down at the IGA had been out in his boat fishing and had come out of some brush just behind the moose when it was lollocking around chest-deep in the swampy end of Fake Lake, and he swore up and down that when he startled the moose, it looked around and spoke to him. The moose jumped a little, and said:

“Excuse me!”

That’s what he thought it said, but it had a mouthful of weeds and might have meant something else. Then it trundled off through the rushes.

If Holland or Winston had told me they talked to a moose I would have accepted it without really taking it seriously, just to be polite. People in the Community told me all sorts of things. Henry was an Episcopalian, though, and believing him when he reported something like this was more difficult and potentially more important. If moose spoke to Episcopalians, it indicated some willingness on their part to engage with the secular world.

Most of us didn’t believe the moose had really spoken to an Episcopalian. We saw the whole thing as an elaborate practical joke along the lines of taping a walkie-talkie to the cat, the sort of thing you used to read in Archie comics. This wasn’t so far-fetched in the early seventies, with be-ins and streakings and happenings still occurring all around us. I could imagine some radio-taggers in the DER giving in to whimsy. But it was something you had to think about. If moose could talk … it gave us all a funny feeling, at least until the burgers were done.

There was more talk about the moose next week, down at the Mobil station. I’d stopped for a fill and was stretched out under the hood, trying to get the dipstick in without putting another bend in it, when Holland came up behind me.

“Did you hear about the moose?” he asked. “It was in the lawn at Bain’s Funeral Parlor last night.”

“Let me guess,” I said. “It said ‘Rest in Peace’.”

“No,” said Holland. “It said ‘Excuse me’ to Mrs. Maddison. She passed out and hit her head on the front porch railing. Ed Bain gave her a certificate for a free floral tribute so she wouldn’t sue.”

“It isn’t Ed’s moose,” I said. “That’s what’s wrong with this country. Too many darn lawyers.”

“We ought to do something,” said Holland.

“What? About lawyers?”

“About the moose. It’s a miracle. You don’t just ignore a miracle. You take up your bed and follow it.”

“Look, it’s a moose,” I said. “Some joker wired it. Or it could be possessed, like the Gadarene swine. You don’t just follow after something because it’s unnatural. Besides, it hasn’t asked you to follow after it, has it? You’ve never even seen this moose.”

“That’s true,” said Holland, thinking it over. “Do you think it is a demon?”

“I think it’s a moose,” I said. I didn’t stop thinking about it after I drove away, though. Holland had a point. A moose that started talking wasn’t just a moose anymore, it was some other kind of thing. Something that called for judgments. Because everybody knew, I figured, that animals weren’t good or bad. They were just critters, or if they were in the wrong place, varmints, but even then, they weren’t in any sense evil. But if they started talking, somehow that seemed to change it all. A talking moose could be a good moose or a bad one, but how could you tell which?

When I got home I hauled out the old King James and paged through the concordance, but there wasn’t anything about moose. The closest I could come was Balaam’s ass.


The next time I saw Holland was in service; he was sitting up near the front, where he always does, with his hands held up and his eyes squeezed shut, praying in tongues during the hymn, and I scrunched myself between the ranks of folding chairs to sit behind him. We didn’t have a church of our own at that time, just a room in the Methodists’ basement, so our services had to be held Sunday at noon after their Ladies’ Aid had cleaned up and gone home. The room was plastered with Methodist Sunday School relics: sheep pictures made out of cotton wool, angels with gilded macaroni haloes.

I liked sitting near Holland. In fact, I wouldn’t have come to services at all if I couldn’t sit near Holland and hear him pray in tongues. A lot of people outside the church make fun of praying in tongues, give it Latin names and call it a syndrome. Even inside the church, people misunderstand it and waste their time trying to translate, saying it’s Aramaic or Hittite or some language our Lord spoke on earth, but the tongue Holland prays in is no human tongue. It’s the language of faith. And when I looked around the church and saw the Fall happen again every year in children changing into sinners like the rest of us, saw old folks losing more of their friends and themselves every year, I needed to hear Holland pray. I needed to know God had given at least one of us the gift to ask Him things none of our languages had words for.

After the service we all stood around the Methodist folding tables and ate Rice Krispies bars. I told Holland about looking the moose up in the concordance.

Winston laughed. “There aren’t any moose in Israel. Moose are only in North America.”

“That’s not true,” said Judy. “They have moose in Sweden. They call them elk over there, that’s all. Did you look up elk?”

“No,” I admitted. “Do they ever call them asses?” I tried to picture Balaam riding on a moose, a tubby little guy in a striped robe and sandals perched up on a moose, holding on to its antlers. It didn’t work.

“The snake talked,” said Holland. “But it was really the devil.”

“It didn’t say ‘excuse me’,” said Winston. “Nothing in the Bible ever apologizes, come to think of it. They say, ‘have mercy upon me a miserable sinner,’ but they never do any apologizing until they’ve become miserable sinners.” Winston went off like this every now and then. He was going to spend the next week looking for places in the Bible where a little common courtesy and communication would have headed all the trouble off, I could tell. Things like Joseph’s brethren telling him how bad his attitude made them feel.

“They’ve got a big concordance upstairs in the library,” said Judy. We left Winston working out Bible manners in his head and went up after it. I’d never been in the Methodist Church proper and it was a real enlightenment to me to find it all carpeted and fake-wood-paneled, done up in sixties professional. If Holland had spoken in tongues up there, someone in an ironed dress would have appeared out of nowhere and asked him to keep his voice down, the doctor would be with him shortly. But they did have a big concordance. There still wasn’t anything about moose in it, or elk either.

“You know what’s really going to happen to that moose,” said Judy.


“The same thing that happened to the mountain lion. Some jerk who doesn’t have anything better to do with himself is going to shoot it.”

She was right. I’d seen the mountain lion myself, but not until after the Pulaski boys shot it and put it out on display in their flatbed.

“It’s a sin,” said Judy.

“Well, what do you expect me to do about it?”

“Nothing,” said Judy. That way women say it, sometimes. It sounds like they’re letting you off the hook, but that’s not what it means.

“Call the Audubon Society,” said Winston, when we told him. “The Sierra Club. The Nature Conservancy. The Humane Society.”

“And what are they gonna do?” I was peeved. “Are they gonna set up a moose guard? Or trap it and take it up into Canada?” That actually made sense, when I thought about it. Like that TV show, where they’re always relocating animals. But if the TV guys knew the moose could talk, they’d relocate it to Hollywood.

Sometimes you stumble upon the truth without even knowing it. They all looked at me with their eyes wide, and then it hit me as well.

“All it does is apologize!” said Winston. “It is Canadian. It’s lost.”

“We have to help it get back,” said Holland.

“I thought you thought it was a demon. Like the snake.”

Holland looked down at the floor and got his stubborn look. It meant he didn’t really understand why he felt the way he did, but he felt that way and nothing was going to change it.

“All it says is ‘excuse me’,” he said. “That’s a Canadian, not a demon.”


If you want to keep tabs on what’s going on in a small town, animal, vegetable, and mineral, you could do worse than have a Christian Community. Folks from all walks of life belong; what the college students don’t see, the line-workers or truckers will. They weren’t all as regular to service as the rest of us, what with their jobs and all, so we didn’t get any of their takes on the moose until Wednesday morning Bible study down at the Burger King.

There usually weren’t any more of us than fit in a booth, and this morning was no exception; Holland and me, and Judy. But then Jim King came in, fresh off a run from West Virginia and hungry for a good gossip. He nodded when we told him about the moose.

“Yeah, there was a guy on the CB last week saying he almost ran into a moose on Route 19, down by Conneaut Marsh.”

We looked at each other. “So it’s heading north,” I said.

“But how would it have gotten down there in the first place?” asked Judy.

“Maybe they live down there and just nobody’s seen them before. Or maybe somebody’s trying to raise ’em,” said Jim. “You’d be surprised what people try to raise, for big game hunting. Last time I was down in Texas, I saw a giraffe. Right by the side of the road—it wasn’t in any zoo, either. And those spotted deer, those are all over the map down there.”

We looked at each other. I thought about a Canadian moose, trapped and transported into a new country. Why would it try to go home, if it had a nice little marsh in Crawford County? But animals can be like that, there’s a hundred stories about it.

The reading that morning was from Matthew 18, the parable of the lost sheep. How think ye? If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.

Most times the Bible takes a lot of talking over before you know what it’s getting at, but that morning it came through loud and clear.

“We have to do something,” said Judy. “That poor thing is just heading north, thinking it’ll get home. It’s going to run straight into Lake Erie, and then what does it do? Either it heads east into Buffalo, or it heads west and ends up in Cleveland.”

I had to admit, it did seem like we needed to do something. A moose wasn’t going to do well in Cleveland.


That Sunday afternoon, Winston brought a guy I didn’t know over to my place. They showed up in a brown jeep Wagoneer I’d never seen before, with a “Protect our Environment” decal on the bumper.

“Holland and Judy here?” Winston asked, the minute I answered the door. “This is Richard Decker, my friend from the DER. They ought to hear this.” The guy with him looked like a government worker. He was as clean-cut as a model from the Parade Sunday supplement. Not a hair out of place, white smile, wire-rimmed specs, ironed jeans.

“I’ll give them a call,” I said. “Why don’t you get settled out back?”

It was one of those muggy afternoons, so I was just as glad to get out of the house and sit out back with Winston and Richard Decker and a couple of cold beers, waiting for Holland and Judy to walk down from their place. Winston got out of the glider so they could sit together.

“Oh, bless you!” Judy said, and rubbed the cold glass across her forehead. “What’s up?”

Winston introduced them to Richard Decker. “He came out to give us the moose news.” We all perked up, as if Decker had brought a cool breeze with him.

“Winston told me you were worried about what would happen to the moose,” he said. “We feel the same way over at the department, so our plan is a trap-and-relocate operation. When we find out where it is, we’ll tranquilize it, tag it, and take it over to New York State. There’s a population of moose just getting started in the Adirondacks, since those bad winters killed off some of the whitetails. It should have plenty of forage, and probably be able to find a mate over there.”

“Oh, that’s good news,” said Judy.

“We thought it came from Canada,” Holland said.

“Well, this would be a strange place for a moose from Canada to end up. It would have had to come across the border at Niagara or over at the St. Clair, and it’s quite a walk from either of those to here. Not through moose-friendly country, either.”

I’d been to Niagara once, and I couldn’t really see a moose getting through it. I imagined a moose on the wide pavement with planters, looking out at the falls, then going down the main street and stopping at a wax works show, or to watch them make taffy. Nope.

“Jim King thought someone might have shipped it in to try and start a big game operation,” I said.

“They might. We haven’t heard anything about it, though. It’s a sure thing,” he said, “that this town isn’t good moose habitat.

“But there’s more, and this is serious.” He pulled out a couple of shiny, smelly sheets of paper—the kind of printouts you got off the microfiche reader at the college, when you were checking newspaper files. “A moose up in Ontario killed six people last month. They say moose are the most dangerous wild animals in Canada.”

Reading the news account distracted me for a minute, so I didn’t really hear what Holland said. “What?”

“Are you saying this moose is a killer?” he repeated.

Winston laughed. “It’s on the lam. Fleeing from the Mounties. Wear a red coat around it and see how fast it runs.”

“What it means is, if you see it you should keep a safe distance and call us,” said Richard Decker. “Don’t approach it yourselves. They’re most dangerous when they’re in rut, but any animal can be a threat if it’s cornered.” He gave us all the office phone number.

“We really appreciate that,” said Judy. “Would you like to stay for dinner?”

Richard Decker wouldn’t, thanks anyway. He probably had a Parade-model wife and children waiting at home. He went off around the garage and left the rest of us to talk over his news. Winston waited till we heard the Wagoneer start up and drive away down the road. Then he pulled out a notebook, the same one he used for Bible study, and leaned forward.

“Here’s the real scoop,” he said. “I went over to the library and looked up moose in Pennsylvania, and it says they used to be all over the state.”


“Yeah, but! Listen to this. ‘The Moshannon Creek in Centre County was formerly called Moose-hanne, or Moose stream. In its deep pools they were said by the Indians to perform religious rites when the moon was crescent shaped.’ Religious rites!” he repeated. “Moose were pagans.” He looked from one face to another. “That moose might be dangerous, but we still need to find it. Who else is going to tell it the Good News about Jesus? The DER cares about its body, but not its immortal soul.”


Winston’s call woke me up about five in the morning. “Richard just headed out. Someone saw that moose on Tickner Lane, out behind Fake Lake.”

“Did he say which way it was going down Tickner?”

“Nope, but my bet is it was going toward the lake.”

You could do worse things with a summer dawn than drive around country lanes looking for a moose. It was heading toward autumn, the first goldenrods just turning yellow. A charm of goldfinches flew across the road in front of my truck, passing over and dipping below one another like they were braiding the air.

Winston and Judy were parked in the lower lot, the one to the west of Fake Lake. “We don’t want the DER guys to know we’re here,” he explained. I could see a couple cars, and a truck with a horse trailer, at the far end of the East Lot. “Looks as if they expect it to come out in the swamp,” said Winston. “I saw some flashlights going down that way.”

“Then there’s no point our going there,” said Judy. “What do you want to do?”

“I’ll stay here and poke around on foot,” said Winston. “The rest of you can scout around the roads, and if you find it come back and get me.”

Holland climbed out of Judy’s car and into the bed of my truck. “I’ll go over to the other edge of the swamp,” Judy said. “Why don’t you go up Post Road to Tickner, and we can meet there.”

Post Road was one of my favorites, the way it dipped and rolled. I’d normally have taken it pretty fast, just to feel the truck swoop along, but not with Holland in the bed. I went slow, looking to both sides: through a wooded spot, where we couldn’t have seen a thing, and out between a couple pastures. Holland banged on the back window at the exact moment that I hit the brakes. We hopped out and stood by the fence, staring.

The moose was standing in the middle of old man Garnet’s field, right beside the big old maple tree where the cows lie down. Ground mist swirled around its ankles. It bobbed its head up and down as if it were trying to tell the cows something, and then it turned and walked away a little bit. It stopped, looking back as if it expected them to follow, but it didn’t know Garnet’s cows. None of them moved a muscle, except to twitch an ear or swish a tail.

Holland took a deep breath and climbed over the fence.

“Hey!” I whispered. “That’s not safe.”

He didn’t even turn his head. He just looked toward the moose. The sun peeped over the horizon, bright red. It lit up one of his ears and made red streaks along the moose’s antlers.

“Uh, hello,” Holland called. The moose turned and looked at him, and so did the cows. They chewed their cuds and twitched their tails, for all the world like movie-goers waiting to enjoy the drama.

Holland walked forward, and what could I do? I climbed over the fence after him, snagging my pants on barbed wire and cursing under my breath. By the time I got loose, he was pretty close to the moose. By my standards, at least.

Holland held his hands out, the way he does in church, and I could hear him talking to the moose. A breeze came up and carried his voice over to me. He was praying in tongues, and the moose had its head tilted in a puzzled sort of way.

“Excuse me?” it said. I actually heard the moose talk, plain as day.

I hadn’t really believed it, I guess, from the way that changed everything. Because at that moment, that misty field with sleepy cows and one tree in the middle of it and wildflowers with dewdrops on them and the rising sun sparking red glints off of everything—and a man speaking to the animals in the center of it—well, I stopped being afraid. Not just of the moose, but of anything. I saw the world as it was meant to be.

Then Holland turned around and came back toward me, and the moose followed him. I stood there like I was in a trance.

“We need to help it get through the fence,” he said. I did some damage to old man Garnet’s barbed wire, pulling out the staples, and by the time I was done with that the moose was right up to me. I tell you, they’re big animals. Heat came off its body, and a smell sort of like swamp weed and sort of like a clean goat. But it never even looked at me. It just passed me by, brushing against my coat as it followed Holland. I hung behind trying to pound the staples back in with the handle of my Swiss Army knife. The cows were paying attention to that, and I jammed an old gum wrapper into a split in the post to mark it, so I could come back with a staple gun and do a better job.

When I turned around, Holland and the moose were about halfway down to Fake Lake Lane. I walked behind and I was fine with being there.

By the time we got down to Fake Lake, the sun had turned yellow. It was high enough to blaze on the lake and the wet parking lot, and it turned the sheet of water into one glare through which we could barely see the DER truck at the far end.

Judy’s car pulled in behind us and I stopped to wait for it. She was white as a sheet, staring at Holland and the moose. Winston came running over and stopped by the car, panting.

“It likes him,” I whispered with my head in the window. “He spoke to it and it followed him.”

Two big tears rolled down Judy’s cheeks, and Winston took her hand. “Our Father, who art in Heaven,” he started, and it seemed like a good thing to say at the moment. So, I stood there with my hand on Judy’s shoulder, and we prayed about God’s will being done and earth being like heaven. All along, I thought I was seeing it right in front of me.

Holland and the moose walked away into the reflected light. It whittled away at their edges until they were just a stick man and a stick moose, surrounded by the green and purple spots you get in your eyes when you’ve stared into the sun. You could tell there was commotion going on over there, but not exactly what.

After a while, Holland came back alone. Judy jumped out, crying, and threw her arms around him.

“What happened?” I said.

“It’s headed home, I guess,” said Holland. He hung his head.

“What’s wrong?”

“They shot it with one of those tranquilizer guns,” he said. “What’s it supposed to think about God’s love, after that?”

“It’ll be all right,” Judy said. “When it wakes up and it’s in a good place, it’ll know.”

“It thought it was in a good place,” said Holland. “It thought it had found friends. And then they shot it. It looked at me—it tried to run—”

Judy gave us a look that meant “Get!”, so Winston and I trudged off toward his car, with the light at our backs and our long, dark shadows stretching across the edge of the lot.

“I’ll give you a lift back to your truck,” Winston said, and I just nodded. It was like something that had lifted off my shoulders, for just long enough to make me think it was gone for good, had dropped back down onto them.

“Sometimes you have to make the best choice of bad options,” said Winston. “It’s a fallen world.”


I didn’t feel like hunting that fall, so I drove Winston’s kids over to the Pumpkin Farm instead to have a look at their display, a pumpkin-headed man and wife driving an old wagon with a pumpkin-headed horse across the lawn. We took the scenic route, past the nursery and the old springs and the pheasant farm, where they kicked the birds out just before hunting season and a lazy guy could get his limit just by sitting on a lawn chair beside the road until they came and tried to fly back in over the fence. I’d forgotten about that, and how dark it made me feel; but Winston’s kids thought it was fantastic and hung out the windows looking for the birds.

We got to the farm and the kids picked out pumpkins as big as themselves. I knew it would all sort out if I just waited for them to get tired of trying to lift their choices and work their way down to what they could handle. The farm sells cider, so I got a cup and sat down at an old picnic table near the hedgerow, in that bright, cool sunlight we get in October.

I’d been sitting there a while when I saw one of those tame farm pheasants come out of the edge of the field, looking around for its coop and feeding trough. It almost walked over my foot before it realized I was sitting there, and then it jumped a little.

“Oh!” it said. “Excuse me!”

Pat Bowne grew up around the charismatic Jesus Movement of the seventies, though unfortunately not around moose. She had family members who routinely spoke in tongues, an experience which was one germ of this story. She now teaches physiology and writes fantasy, including a three-novel series about life in a modern university of magic; you can find out all about these and her other publications at www.raosyth.com. This particular story sat unfinished on her hard drive through five computers, until she came across the quote about moose performing pagan rites (it’s from Henry Wharton Shoemaker, (1915) Pennsylvania Deer and Their Horns, quoted by Scottie Westfall at https://retrieverman.net/2012/01/24/the-moose-in-pennsylvania/). That made her characters’ next steps perfectly clear.

“A Moose for Jesus” by Patricia S. Bowne. Copyright © 2020 by Patricia S. Bowne.

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