Saber series: Moose
Performer Sequoia Hauck
Land collaborator Bdote, Dahkóta land
Photos by Maxwell Collyard
Antlers by Elle Thoni
"I grieved by walking
My steps were my tears
I walked a whole river and wasn't done."
"Extinction: something on the verge of disappearing, but not quite gone. The misuse and mistreatment of the land has led us to understand extinction all too well. What can we do so that everything we know doesn’t fade away?"
~ Sequoia Hauck
It's a golden autumn day when myself, Sequoia, and Maxwell convene by the Mississippi, just downstream from Bdote, the kind of day that many of us long for the rest of the year. I can get away with only a pullover as I watch Sequoia don their moose antlers, adding an unquestionable grandiosity to their stature. Moose are the largest member of the deer family, with antlers that can spread six feet end-to-end and weigh up to 40 pounds. As the photo shoot commences along the riverbank, I run back to the parking lot to fetch something I've forgotten. On the way back, I hear a passerby sputtering to their companion, "I don't know, it was just... when I saw the antlers... !" When I spy my collaborators again, I myself am taken aback. There's Sequoia, standing ten feet back from the trail: a dark-clothed silhouette with iconic bowl-like spikes, radiating such massive calm that it shook every loose part of me. It was big Moose energy, alright.
What's happening with Moose in Minnesota? Back in 2018, when I attended a lecture by DNR wildlife biologist Michelle Carstensen, my heart just about cracked open. Moose, one of our largest and most celebrated megafauna, are suffering from multiple stressors - including the insides-churning Brain Worm Syndrome. Brain worm came North with their most common hosts, white-tailed deer (that's right, who knew that white-tailed deer were non-native to this region!). While the parasite knows the map of a deer's brain, it quickly gets lost inside a moose's - causing all kinds of neurological damage trying to find its way around. If you're ever in the mood for some particularly devastating late night You Tube-ing, you can find videos of infected moose stumbling in spirals - a mesmerizing death dance - as they lose all sense of awareness and coordination. Add an increase in wolf populations, ticks that no longer die off due to milder winters, and other impacts of climate change... and the prognosis for Moose in Minnesota doesn't look good.
There are so many parallels that we can draw to our deer kin, particularly inside the duel crisis of racialized colonial capitalism and pandemic. It feels noteworthy to me that the moose picked up the brain worm from the white-tailed deer, who, in this region, are an invasive species. As I write this, thousands of out-of-state workers from the multinational corporation Enbridge are actively destroying forests and wetlands across Anishinaabe treaty territory in so-called Northern Minnesota for the sake of another unnecessary pipeline. An invasive species of another kind, but no less destructive. #stopline3
As a queer with high anxiety, I also can't help but think about internalized oppression, and empathize with the condition of losing control of one's mind. As my friend Ricardo Levins Morales says, "What's happening with the moose and what's happening with our anxiety both have to do with our relationship to nature. Our broken relationship with nature breaks nature." How do we reclaim ourselves amidst very real external threats? I have no easy answer. I wish I did. But I've sat with all that moose energy, picturing their spiralic descent back to the earth, it's struck me that walking is a kind of prayer. Simply choosing to move with self, with the Earth and her planetary family, with change, with time - even when you're unsure of how long or to what end - is prayer. And if that's how life is naturally compelled to move, I have some hope for our collective healing.
In honor of Sequoia and Maxwell's collaboration on this Moose photo shoot, a donation was made to The Indigenous People's Task Force. We encourage you to follow and invest in their work!
Special thanks to Alison Heimstead and Dillon Sebastien for antler fabrication support!
"Moose" is an excerpt from the upcoming Saber, MN audio play, featuring an original score by Carlisle Evans Peck - released 12.21.20. Stream on this site for free or contribute $5 or more to download. Proceeds are split between Saber artists and Native-led Line 3 resistance.