Snow was falling lightly from the early-morning sky when the tones went off. A moose had reportedly attacked a man, and he was complaining of pain everywhere. Hips, back, legs—you name it, it hurt. The location of the offending bruin was unclear, but the man needed help.
I responded with the fire department; our job was to secure the scene for the incoming medics. The plan if an antlered assailant were still present was to shield the man with my truck, load him up, and get to the ambulance as quickly as possible.
I eased up the 800-foot-long driveway, scanning the property and road for the perpetrator. Making it all the way to the house and unable to spot the behemoth or the man, I presumed the moose had lumbered off and the patient had crawled into his home. The only evidence I was at the right scene was a scattering of split firewood and a round area in the snow that was flattened. My eyes followed a few large footprints in the snow that came out of the woods to the flat area, and then the same tracks led back to the woods alongside imprints of smaller hooves.
I knocked on the door, and the man invited me in. We talked while I assessed his injuries. They were minor when you consider the size of the animal that battered him, but he was unable to stand without assistance. After I updated the ambulance and checked his vitals, we got down to the details of the altercation.
Needing firewood, he’d headed outside to select some from his stack. The predawn Alaskan sky was dark, so he couldn’t see well, but he knew where he was going. He got to the pile and found the firewood strewn all over—something had tipped over his neatly stacked lumber. Not only were hours of work ruined, but the wood was wet with snow. It would be that much harder to light, and the morning was cold.
Angry, frustrated, and tripping over pieces of his spoiled wood pile, he spotted the culprit: a yearling moose calf lying in the middle of the mess. The calf was sleeping in an impromptu nest of wood and snow, oblivious to the inconvenience it had created. Without a second thought the man gave into his anger and kicked it.
It kicked him back.
Like a seesaw on a playground, the man fell as the calf leaped to a standing position. Within seconds a cow moose burst from the timberline, rushing to her baby’s aid, and the patient braced for the wrath of a wronged mother. As it turns out, “stop, drop, cover, and roll” applies to more than fires—he found himself doing those very things to avoid the stomping. Mama got in a few kicks in before she was finished. As the pair walked away to the safety of the forest, the man yelled some obscenities at them. The cow stopped and turned, making eye contact. Not wanting a Round 2, the man hobbled to his front door as quickly as he could, shut the door, and called 9-1-1. He swore he could hear breathing outside the door, the moose waiting for him to risk another foray outside.
Ultimately he was treated without incident, but he bears a limp to this day.
There are times in your life where you will come face-to-face with someone or something that is the provenance of your ire, or maybe something random you just take your frustrations out on. It might be a frequent flier you’ve seen one too many times, a lawyer who has subpoenaed you multiple times, a family member, or a resident who doesn’t understand trips to the grocery store while on duty with municipal equipment. It could be an ambulance for which you’ve turned in a work order on every shift this month. It could be a reporter’s story you want to reply to on social media because they have a fact wrong or a perspective you dislike. It might be your former boss’ business venture on which someone asks your opinion.
Don’t kick it—it might kick you back.
The coworker you angrily scold in front of others and embarrass might be promoted to your supervisor. The district attorney you demand stop subpoenaing might stop trusting you. The clerk you yell at for taking too long to check you out at the store just might call your employer and generate a disciplinary action form before you even get back to quarters. A social media post, comment, or even a simple “like” might haunt or even end your career. The former boss might be your next boss. There are many ways your actions can have repercussions.
“Cancel culture” is a real career threat and something every professional has to worry about. It is the way some people react to the actions of others in place of direct confrontation. It can be a phone call to your boss or spouse, a letter to your city assembly, a person testifying before your board of directors, or social media comments that disparage your workplace for employing people who don’t exemplify what they consider ethical or imitable actions.
There are times our emotions want to get the better of us. Mistakes happen when we surrender control to anger. When you cannot stop your frustrations from surfacing, you don’t know where they might come out at the wrong time and end up causing you injury or harm. Pretend every person you interact with is your 90-year-old grandparent or your 4-year-old niece. If you wouldn’t say it to them, don’t say it to anybody.
Christian Hartley is fire chief for the city of Houston, Alaska. He is a second-generation responder who has worked in EMS, corrections, and the fire service since 1999.