Have you ever met a moose in the wild?
Photo: EPA. Source: Wikipedia
A few years ago I was hiking in Yellowstone National Park, heading off to an attraction about a mile off the road. It was late July, the middle of the afternoon, and as I rounded a corner, there he stood in all his majesty. He was about 20 feet in front of me, had a full rack, and looked about a hundred feet tall. The momentum from my enthusiastic hiking style carried me forward a few feet, and we just stared at one another.
Then he turned his head and went back to his browsing, I slowly, slowly backed away, and we went our different directions: him along the trail, and me back to my car as quickly as possible. I met a family heading out and I warned them that a bull moose was browsing along the trail. They seemed excited at the prospect. I was relieved to get back without incident.
Moose are scary. They seem peaceful and are generally content to leave you alone, but they’re huge. When cars hit them the results are nasty. Especially for the cars. That’s why Maine has Moose Crossing signs on I-95 just a few miles into the state. Running into a moose is no joke, and their big, dark eyes don’t reflect headlights the way a deer’s eyes do.
Photo: J. Stephen Conn. Source: Flikr. CC BY-NC 2.0.
In ecology, Moose are a dominant herbivore. They eat a lot, but since they’re solitary animals (except for cows with their calves), they never overgraze an area. They struggle during the winter because it can be challenging to wade through the snow to get enough twigs to browse. Triumphing through the long winter months can be a challenge.
They do have natural predators: bears and wolves. There’s a great study of the predator-prey cycle on an island in Lake Superior that’s been going on for over five decades. Sometimes the wolf population has crashed, sometimes the moose population crashes. There is no static “balance of nature.” Something is always changing.
Both moose and wolves contribute to the health of the overall ecosystem; they depend upon each other. Moose provide food for the wolves; wolves cull the old and sick members of the population to prevent outbreaks of disease. When the moose population grew too large in the late ‘90s, a pandemic caused it to collapse.
In our financial lives, some things are like moose. They’re big and unpredictable and – if we’re not prepared – the best approach may be to back down and temporarily walk away. But moose can offer great lessons if we’re ready. The scientists on Isle Royale have been studying individuals and the population for decades, learning their natural history and how predators and prey interact.
Similarly, financial issues in our lives need to be observed, measured, and managed. Maybe it’s retirement planning or estate planning. Maybe it’s budgeting and cash flow management. Maybe it’s tackling student loans or debt. If you find a “moose” in your financial life, be sure to be ready for it. But then go ahead and step up.
I’ve lived through bull and bear markets, but I’ve never seen a “moose market.” Bull and bear markets can both be profitable. Moose like to browse. And they can triumph over the winter.