When I was younger, a friend of a friend told me about the moose in Alaska. He said, “If we see a bear on the way to work we walk around ’em, let ’em do their thing while we do ours. If we see a moose, we lock our doors and stay inside ’til it goes away.”

The idea of a beast so awesome and so terrifying as to be placed above bears on the totem-pole blew my mind as a kid. It was like something out of a story, or an exhibit in a museum—some prehistoric beast that I was half-convinced never existed. So imagine my shock when I learned that you didn’t have to go to Alaska to find this mythical creature; they lived right here, in the forests I’d known my whole life.

It took a long time for me to see one. Years, in fact. I spent time in the mountains like I always had, and the longer it took the more I came to think of a moose as just another creature, like a deer or an elk. Maybe a little bigger. Nothing special. Like so many other things, the idea of this mythological beast became just a fact of life. Mundane.

And then I saw my first moose.

Like I said, years had passed. I wasn’t a kid anymore, and I felt like I knew the Rocky Mountains like the back of my hand. It was early, that time just after sunrise when the sun still sits behind the mountains, but the air is full of cool blue light. We were camped in the trees at the edge of a marsh, and I woke before anyone else, climbing out of the tent into the cold, clean air coming off the water.

The morning’s mist still hung over the marsh, wrapping the willows in a soft white veil. There was no sound but the stream flowing gently through the reeds. And then there was a snap, and a bird took flight across the marsh.

I looked towards the sound. There it was.

I didn’t understand it at first. Nothing about it was like anything I’d ever seen before—a dark shape in the reeds, bigger than a horse, bigger than our car, deep black in the half-light of the morning and shrouded in white mist. I only knew what it was when it lifted its head, bringing its antlers into full view.

A moose. A giant bull moose, his antlers as wide as my arms stretched as far as they would go. Longer, most likely. The beast towered at the opposite end of the marsh, staring silently across the rushes, statuesque and massive.

A shiver ran through me, as I stood in the trees at the edge of the marsh. It wasn’t the cold. As I thought back on it later, I imagine I should’ve been afraid, but I wasn’t. My mind was filled with silent, reverential wonder. Like I said, the moose—the great, majestic creature I suddenly shared the Rocky Mountains with—was nothing like I’d ever seen before.

We stood like that, regarding one another for a minute, maybe two, until the moose turned soundlessly away and walked back into the forest.

It was only then that I let out my breath in a ragged sigh. I’d been holding it the entire time, hoping that this moment would never, ever end.