Eagle River musician on the mend after moose attack

Monday, May 20, 2019 - 14:50

After the stomping ended, all Taylor Caldwell could think about was finding his dog, Memphis.

“I started yelling out his name,” Caldwell said Monday from Providence Hospital, where he’s recovering from injuries suffered in a Friday afternoon moose attack. Then he realized that was a mistake. A cow moose was again sizing up the 67-year-old piano player as he laid on the ground, broken and bleeding from wounds to his hand, ribs, leg and rear end.

“I thought, ‘Aw man, I don’t know if I can survive two rounds,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell shut up and stopped moving. The moose did a curious “dance” by turning in a tight circle before walking back to her nearby calf. The attack was over.

The afternoon began normally enough for Caldwell, who moved to the Eaglewood subdivision in Eagle River with his wife Debbie in December. He put a leash on Memphis and hit the neighborhood trails, an extensive network of narrow paths that wind through and around the large residential development in the Eagle River Valley near Walmart.

Caldwell left a paved path near N. Chichagof Loop and turned onto a gravel trail. Within a few steps, he heard a rustling in the nearby brush and turned to find himself nearly face-to-face with a 1,000-pound mama moose.

“I knew at that point it was going to be a rough ride,” he said.

He was right. Over the next few seconds — the exact timeline is a bit murky — the moose kicked, stomped and thrashed him with its sharp, powerful hooves.

“They hit hard and they hit fast,” he said.

At one point Caldwell thinks the animal knocked him into the air with her head before wandering away, momentarily satisfied the threat had been neutralized. After returning briefly for her “dance”, the moose finally left the area and Caldwell began crawling toward the road.

He estimates he went about 65 yards before emerging into the neighborhood near the intersection of N. Montague and Andreanof Drive. That’s where he was spotted by a passer-by who called 911. Another woman walking in the area — Eaglewood resident Emily Soule — stopped to help Caldwell as he laid on the grass near a fence alongside the road.

“She stayed with me and I appreciate that,” he said.

Caldwell was rushed to the hospital, where doctors stitched up his wounds, which include a broken hand, broken ribs, a punctured lung and gouges in his thigh he said were deep enough for a surgeon to reach his hand into.

Caldwell said he never got between the moose and its calf, his dog was on a leash the entire time and neither he nor Memphis noticed the moose until the attack was imminent. He said the incident happened so fast that he thinks he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and doesn’t blame the moose for stomping him.

“My biggest thing right now is, I don’t have any thoughts of revenge. It was something that just happened and you get over it, move on,” he said. “It was just an animal protecting its offspring. I don’t have much of a vindictive heart.”

Caldwell will be missed by Anchorage music fans while he’s on the mend. For the past 18 months, the singer and piano player has had a regular gig Friday evenings at Sullivan’s Steakhouse. He also plays regularly at other venues around the city, including the Aviator Club and the Bradley House, where he was supposed to play over the weekend.

He’s hoping for a quick recovery and speedy return to the scene. It’s all he knows.

“Hey, I’m going to do what I’ve done for 45 years,” he said. “Play music.”

The attack took place in the same neighborhood where a woman was stomped and severely injured in 2017, but both Caldwell and his wife said they had no idea the neighborhood was known for having dangerous moose. On Friday afternoon, Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists posted signs near the sight of the attack and warned neighborhood residents to stay off the trails for the next couple weeks. Cow moose are extremely aggressive when protecting calves, especially during the spring when the young animals are born.

Caldwell isn’t sure how much longer he’ll be in the hospital. His condition is complicated due to ongoing cancer treatment and the 67-year-old’s past history as a smoker. But his attitude remains good despite the trauma, his wife said.

“He’s in good spirits,” Debbie Caldwell said.

That can’t be said for Memphis, who wasn’t seriously injured in the attack (she said he’s been limping a bit) but has been missing her master since he disappeared into the back of an ambulance Friday.

“He’s pretty traumatized, he’s not understanding where daddy went,” she said.

In the days since he was attacked, Caldwell said he said he’s been getting flooded with encouraging words from friends and fans and his hospital room has seen a steady string of visitors. Knowing so many people care so much has been an uplifting note in an otherwise downbeat tale, he said.

“Man, I was really not just impressed but, I can’t find the word,” he said. “It did my heart good.”

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