"We’ve been walking forever!” Six-year-old Jenny had started to gripe a few minutes earlier, and now she was breaking out in a full-fledged whine.
Jenny’s mother Elaine rolled her eyes. “It’s only been 10 minutes.”
“But it’s soooooo hot.” Jenny pretended to stagger, as if she couldn’t possibly keep up the pace.
Elaine couldn’t argue that Jenny was wrong. It was one of the hottest afternoons of the summer. Heat waves made their farmyard shimmer in the distance. Even Flora, the German shepherd puppy, had stopped running ahead and was lagging behind.
“You three could wait here,” Jenny’s father Jeff said, catching his wife’s eye and shrugging. “I can come back for you with the truck.”
“I want to walk,” 11-year-old Connor said stubbornly. “It’s all my fault anyway. You could wait here too, Dad. I can bring the truck out and pick everyone up.”
“We might as well stick together,” Elaine said. “There’s no shade here to wait in.” She looked wistfully at the lone tree about half a mile to the east. “At least we’re spending some family time together.”
“A family that complains together remains together?” Jeff said, proud of his quick rhyme.
“It’s too hot to complain!” Jenny complained.
Despite a scare during seeding season when a mechanic who’d visited the Hanson Farm came down with COVID, the Hansons had not caught the virus. With rules relaxing and the adults double-vaccinated, the Hanson family was close to “normal” again, but between Jeff’s spraying schedule, Elaine travelling to Saskatoon for board meetings and the kids spending time with friends, the four of them had gone separate ways many days.
This week, Jeff’s parents had headed out for a three-day trip to Yorkton to visit relatives they hadn’t seen since 2019, leaving Jeff and Elaine and their kids alone on the farm.
“Look after Flora,” Dale had said. “Maybe you can teach her some new tricks.”
At lunchtime, Elaine fed the kids grilled cheese sandwiches. “Can we go to the lake today?” Jenny had asked.
“I suppose. We could take Flora, if she’ll let us put her leash on her,” Elaine nodded. “As soon as your dad finishes spraying and we get the garden weeded we can drive to the beach for a swim.”
“Can we get ice cream after?” Connor asked.
“Sure,” Elaine agreed. She liked ice cream at least as much as anyone else.
Jeff phoned while Flora and the two kids were “helping” Elaine weed.
“You’ve got to come see this,” he said.
“What?” Elaine asked.
“That moose is out here by the dugout. The one with two calves.”
Jeff had told his family about the moose twins, but so far he was the only Hanson who had actually seen them.
“Why don’t you and the kids hop in the side-by-side and come take a look?”
Always happy to have an excuse to leave the garden, Elaine called out to ask Connor and Jenny if they wanted to go take a look.
“The moose might be gone before we get there,” she warned them. “And nobody gets out of the side-by-side. Moose can be dangerous.”
Soon the three of them were in the front of the side-by-side, with Flora perched in the back. They drove through the field behind the house, taking the trail to the dugout Jeff had been using to fill the sprayer.
It was a quick ride to the dugout, but they were too late.
“You just missed them,” Jeff said. The kids groaned.
“Are there really twins?” Connor asked. “How come you’re the only one who ever sees them?”
“I saw where they went. They’re on the other side of that west slough,” Jeff said.
Connor and Jenny looked skeptical, and disappointed.
“Okay,” Jeff said. “Get back in the side-by-side. We’ll go look. I could use a break from spraying.”
This time Connor rode in the back with the dog.
“Slow down,” Elaine said, as Jeff took off.
“Faster!” Connor hollered from the back.
“Hang on to Flora!” Jenny ordered her brother.
In a few minutes they were almost at the slough.
“Do you see that brown blur?” Jeff yelled out over the engine noise.
The rest of the family looked hopefully in the direction he’d pointed, but if there was a moose in the bush around the slough they couldn’t see it yet.
Then the side-by-side came to a stop.
“We need to go closer,” Jenny said.
Jeff was looking at the gauges. “I can’t believe this. We’re out of gas.”
“Oh no!” Elaine said. “I didn’t even think to check. We came out in such a rush.”
“It’s my fault,” Connor said from the back. “Me and Oscar took it out yesterday. We tried to fill it up before we put it in the shed, but we couldn’t twist the gas cap. I was going to ask for help, but I forgot.”
“How are we going to get home?” Jenny asked.
“We can walk, stupid. We can see the yard from here.”
“Don’t call your sister stupid,” Jeff said. “It’s not much more than a mile.”
“What if the moose chases us?” Jenny asked.
“At least we’d get to see it,” Connor said.
The Hansons began the walk back to the house.
For the first quarter mile, it was a family adventure. Flora ran ahead, chasing bugs and finding new things to smell. Jenny told her father about a game she’d played at her friend’s house.
Connor did his best to be positive, since he was the older brother. But he did point out that it was a shame they hadn’t even gotten a look at the moose.
When walking in the humidity stopped being fun for everyone, Jeff picked Jenny up and carried her on his shoulders.
“Isn’t she too big for that?” Elaine asked.
“Yeah, but it’s more fun to carry her than listen to her.”
“I’m going to start complaining too,” Elaine said.
“Don’t be silly mom,” Jenny said. “There’s no way Dad could lift you.”
Elaine pretended to ignore that and kept trudging. Eventually, they were back at the yard. Flora made a beeline for her water bowl, and the Hansons went inside to gulp glasses of cold water.
“I’d better get back to the sprayer,” Jeff said. “Then we’ll fill up a gas can and take it out to the side-by-side.”
“You want a ride back out to the dugout?” Elaine asked.
“I’ll take my truck.”
Jeff was about to pull into the field by the dugout where he’d left the sprayer when he saw them. The two young moose calves were standing together at the edge of the dugout, perfectly profiled against the sky. Jeff pulled out his phone to call Elaine and tell her, then he decided he’d better not set the family up for more disappointment.
He heard a sound and looked down into the dugout. The mother moose was in there. She had gone beyond the mud at the edge and was swimming awkwardly and splashing in the cool water on a hot day.
Slowly then she turned. She lifted her head so she could look him in the eye, and Jeff felt it clear to his bones. Was she laughing?