Eva Holland | Longreads | May 30, 2019 | 26 minutes (7,122 words)
The caribou cow gives birth on her feet. She stands with legs wide apart, or turns on the spot, shuffling in slow circles, craning her long neck to watch as her calf emerges inch by inch from below her tail, between her hips. It’s oddly calm, this process — a strange thing to witness for us two-legged mammals, more accustomed to the stirrups and the struggle and the white-knuckled screaming of a Hollywood birth scene.
The calf, when he comes, emerges hooves first. He climbs into the world fully extended, like a diver stretching toward the water. Out come the front pair of hooves, capping spindly legs, then the long narrow head, the lean, wet-furred body, and finally, another set of bony legs and sharp little hooves. His divergence from his mother leaves behind nothing but some strings of sticky fluid and a small patch of bloody fur. He doesn’t know it, but the land he is born on is one of the most contentious stretches of wilderness in North America.
The calf, when he comes, emerges hooves first…He doesn’t know it, but the land he is born on is one of the most contentious stretches of wilderness in North America.
Still slick with mucus, the calf takes his first steps within minutes, stumbling awkwardly to his feet as his mother licks him clean. Within 24 hours, he is able to walk a mile or more. Soon, if he survives long enough, he will be capable of swimming white-water rivers, outrunning wolves, and trotting overland for miles upon miles every day. His life will offer myriad dangers and only the rarest respite; for the caribou, staying alive means staying on the move.