Friday, July 20, 2012


 “When I think something nice is going to happen
I seem to fly right up on the wings of anticipation;
and then the first thing I realize
I drop down to earth with a thud.
…the flying part is glorious as long as it lasts...
it's like soaring through a sunset.
I think it almost pays for the thud.”
~L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

Moose Tracks (c) 2010; Melissa Johnson.
I once saw a documentary on the mating rituals of Moose. Fascinating and a bit disappointing, really, for reasons you'll soon understand.

There’s such hullabaloo in the ritual.  Come autumn, as if on cue, the bull moose begins to shed the soft velvet on his antlers.  “Shed first, mate first” might well be their motto, and the mature males usually go first, kicking off the rutting season by thrashing antlers about in the brush.  This alerts nearby cow moose (hey, ladies!) and other bulls that the game is on, confirming their prime status and challenging nearby bulls to a little stiff (ahem!) competition.

The bull then digs a hole (a few inches deep and a couple of feet wide)—his rutting pit of love—into which he urinates and then splashes around to cover his head and antlers and whatever else he can soak in his smell.  Strangely, this robust smell triggers ovulation in a nearby cow, which sends her into heat.  

Other bulls close-by respond to her smell and his call, fighting and knocking antlers and pushing each other around as they pound their moose chests, challenging each other for the chance to breed with the cow.  The cows are just sort of hanging out waiting to be chosen before their “time” runs out.  This process takes days (and about 25 minutes of a 30 minute documentary) to sort itself out. Then, finally, the superior bull makes his move . . .

It’s fairly anti-climaxic after that (pun intended), for the actual sex act between them takes just seconds to consummate.  Prime bulls may mate up to six times in the one-month season and, if my memory serves me correctly, I think the statistic was something like a whopping 90% of cows get pregnant on the first go in healthy moose populations!  Shortly thereafter, the bulls lose interest in the cows and the mamas basically raise their babies alone.  The end.  And just like that, the documentary was over.

I couldn’t help but laugh at the obvious comparison.  Okay, so moose mating rituals and the human experience are entirely different things, but in a similar way do we not build-up—even dramatize—the major events and relationships in our lives, planning each detail in our fascinating minds, plotting each move; soaring high with anticipation about how wonderful and great it’s all going to be when “it” goes down?  Only later to discover that the actual event was nowhere near as exciting as the road we took to arrive there. 

Apparently this sort of event anticipation is quite common among us two-leggeds.  Take vacations, for example.  A study conducted by researchers in the Netherlands (reported in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life) found that the simple act of planning a vacation boosted individuals’ happiness quotient for eight weeks compared to the more baseline levels of happiness (or stress) that the same folks reported upon returning from the vacation.  (To read more, check out the NY Times article “How Vacations Affect Your Happiness”, published February 18, 2010, 

Among other things, this study illustrates in simple terms the impact of excitement and anticipation on our happiness and overall sense of wellbeing.  Whether we’re planning a vacation, plotting a career change, making preparations for a wedding, dreaming of climbing that mountain or whatever other thing we can conjure in our minds, we’re wise to slow down and savor the delicious anticipation and excitement along the way.  

Indeed, it’s not just about the outcome but the journey itself.  Make it great!