Chapter Nineteen: More Moose

NOTE: "Semi-Rough: A North Country Journal," is now available as a complete book, that includes these on-line essays and more. If you'd like a free pdf to download to your computer, send me a note at symbios@condortales.com and I'll email you a copy.

Tuesday 22 July 2003 - "I was talking to Bucky and Sarah about when moose first appeared in this area. Sarah said that Winston showed them to her at Bog Brook in the 1950s, but Bucky doesn’t think he saw any until about 1975. That’s about the earliest date we have for Calista seeing any here (the washcloth incident). I think my first one was 1985."

Sally's dad, Slim Harris, spent time at our Camp from 1947 to 1968; he never saw a moose on the Hill. It was probably about 1975 when Sally's mom, Cal, saw the first one. I had to wait from 1969 to 1985 before seeing my first Dummer Hill moose. After that, there was no shortage of sightings, and no shortage of stories to go with them.

I don't recall if the incident referred to above was Cal's first Camp moose, but it was the one that everybody seemed to know, locally (although not always accurately). She was alone at Camp, probably weaving something on her belt loom, when the light coming through the little window by the wood stove was cut off. Because the brown mass would have completely covered the small opening, it probably took her a moment or two to realize that a very large bull moose was standing only a few feet away from her on the other side of the cabin wall. The moose moved a little bit away from the window, so she could see better what was going on.

There was a clothesline stretching from the house to the wood shed, and on it was hanging a single wash cloth, which the moose appeared to be sniffing with interest. The line was only about five feet off the ground, so the moose had to duck its antlers and body significantly to get under it. It accomplished the feat, and moved out of her sight. The heavy, windowless cabin door was closed, so she couldn't see the bull's progress. She moved over to the door, and began to swing it outward so she could follow the moose's progress. The door opened only a foot or so before it encountered something very solid. As Calista remembered it later, the first thing she thought to say was, "Oh, I beg your pardon." The moose eventually moved on down the outhouse path and into the woods.

* * *

As I said, my first Dummer Hill moose was probably in 1985. I say "probably" because I wasn't keeping a detailed journal in the 1980s, just miscellaneous observations. On 1 June 1985, I wrote "A moose right at camp." That seems like a pretty mild reaction to my first Hill moose, so maybe it wasn't the first. In any event, I was still pretty excited to see moose in 1993:

21 September 1993 - "I had a great encounter with a bull moose [pretty small rack, pretty big critter]. I was coming back down Dummer Hill and was just at the creek, when I heard brush crashing and a very deep, loud “woof, woof.” I thought it was going to be a bear, so I waited behind a tree. Apparently he heard me and stopped in the woods just short of the road. All I could see was a black shape, and I still thought it was a bear. Finally, he came out onto the road, and stood and watched me for awhile. I took several semi-poor slides. Then he ambled on through the woods toward Cedar Brook, “woofing” every few paces as he walked."

Four years later, that kind of encounter was still unusual enough to warrant a long entry in our journal:

Friday September 5 1997 - "1815-1930 we walked out the logging road to the powerline, and back. A few birds, but pretty quiet, overall, until we started back from the powerline. We heard some brush crashing, and saw one moose. As I walked back up the road to get a better view, Sally saw another moose cross the powerline south to north. When we got back to the fork, the two of them were just crossing the logging road headed for Potter’s land - a cow and a (female?) calf.

"When we got to the foot of the hill, we heard a very large crash, and then deep breathing off in the woods close to the little 'pond'/borrow pit. It [obviously a moose] paralleled us in the woods as we walked up the hill to the pad. It was extremely loud with both its crashing and its breathing. It [he - the big one we’ve seen twice the past week] came out on our road just before our rose/cranberry plantings, stopped briefly and looked down at us [on the pad] - impressive! - then went out to the road and wandered down it toward the new log landing. It was already pretty dark in the woods, so we didn’t follow.

"When we were about halfway into camp, we heard a loud crash in the woods below (east of) us, that almost certainly was another moose. We never saw it."

* * *

A meeting with a moose a year later would have made a good entry for Facebook, if there had been such a thing in those days, and if someone had been around to film it. Probably I would have been as much the star of the movie as the moose. I had just returned to Camp from having surgery for an enlarged prostate, and was still equipped with a catheter bag and making rather regular, urgent trips from the cabin to the outhouse. Here's how I described it in the journal:

Friday 21 August 1998 - "One wonderful event: about 0800, while I was returning from one of several trips to the outhouse, I almost walked into 'The Big Moose', who had just walked in our driveway. He seemed entirely uninterested in us, and went up between the upper garden and the elderberry, pausing awhile to strip a number of the newly-emerged poplars. He continued to browse his way up into the woods north of our spring.

"We don’t think this is the famous 'Bullwinkle'. That local legend is always described as being fairly small with a gigantic rack, so that he seems oddly-proportioned. This animal is BIG ALL OVER, and is wonderfully built. As I think I’ve written before, the striking thing about his antlers is their width. The spoons are quite big, but the distance from the head out to the flat parts is more like a big elk than it is like most moose we’ve seen.

"I was in pretty bad shape at the time, but thankfully I had the big telephoto on the camera, and I snapped several shots before he got too deep in the vegetation. I must have been an interesting sight on the lawn, snapping a picture, doubling over in pain from bladder pressure, taking another picture, etc. I think by this time I had put my sweats on; I had made several previous trips in just sweatshirt and thongs.

"At 1955, 'The Big Moose' - or another big moose, couldn’t see its antlers well - was in the woods below the house. Something spooked him, and he ran across the lawn and out our driveway."

One other moose sighting that I remember well involved some youngsters out enjoying the evening:

Saturday 1 July 2000 - "After dark [about 2200], we heard noises right outside the door. I went over to the little window, and heard “clopping” sounds. I shone the flashlight around, and spotted a small moose up by the truck. I went outside and, with the flashlight, followed the moose’s eye shine. [Amazing to see the bright dot walking away from you, then suddenly having two dots as it turns to look at you.] Up by the big highbush cranberry, it met another moose, and I followed their eye shine by flashlight down toward the apple tree. It looked like two yearling-sized moose, likely the ones we had around earlier."

It wasn't until I had my film developed (remember the days before digital cameras?) that I learned my two young moose had actually been three.

* * *

In moose country, you are often warned to beware of bull moose in the autumn rutting season, when testosterone levels are running high as bulls look for "marriageable" cows. We never had any trouble with any of them, but we certainly saw the potential:

Friday 19 September 2003 - "In the afternoon, a bull moose with a very large, well proportioned rack came up the field. Sally didn’t notice him until he was between the house and the big apple. He didn’t hurry, but walked determinedly across the field and out our road. I went outside and snapped a couple pictures as he went by. He never looked toward the house or me, but the second he got to the vegetation at the edge of the driveway, he viciously thrashed it several times with his antlers. Then he went out of sight out the road. We went out to check his handiwork. There were a number of broken branches and mowed-over vegetation. Rutting season. I’m glad we didn’t meet him on the road!"

MoreMoose


Over the years, we saw "fighting" among territorial bulls on a number of occasions. I suppose it can get rough - like the crashing antlers and horns of elk and bighorn sheep you see regularly on the television - but most of what we saw was pretty low-key. A few examples:

Wednesday 28 August 2002 - "We had two bull moose (both with small racks) in the field in early morning. Sally first saw them about 0500. It was still fairly dark and they moved in and out of view, but she heard them running around and saw them apparently sparring a little bit. I woke up about 0545, and now that it was lighter we could see them challenging one another and briefly locking antlers. It has all pretty half-hearted, and each encounter lasted only a few seconds, but good fun to watch. They finally wandered out of sight down in the glades about 0615."

Wednesday 6 October 2004 - "As I drove back into the field after taking the trash down the Hill, I saw two moose just north of the house. Sally said they had just that minute come up the trail north of the house. One was a cow, the other was a large bull with almost caribou-like antlers (tremendous length and spread). We were watching them as they watched the house, when another large bull came up the trail behind them. The two bulls met briefly in the middle of the field, then the newcomer moved over toward the cow. The big one ran at him, and the newcomer went into the woods to the east, while the first bull and the cow went on into the Glades."

Monday 5 October 1998 - "We were about to leave for a short walk at 1800, when I happened to look down the field to the entrance to “the glades”. There were two bull moose [one pretty obviously a youngster with little more than spikes for antlers, and a larger bull with a medium-sized rack] who were “fighting”. They would face each other and wrestle, antler to antler. Much of it was in place, but occasionally one would run at the other from a short distance. The smaller bull ran away a short distance after several aggressive moves by the larger animal. It was an “active” battle - the antler crashing sounds were great - but didn’t seem to be acrimonious. After a couple jousts, they’d walk side by side up the field, eating a little off downed birches. Then one [usually the larger] would nudge the other, and they would “horn wrestle” for awhile. They eventually worked their way up the field in back of the cellar hole, where they browsed side by side on willows and birches. The larger browsed his way north again, and finally wandered off into “the glades”. The smaller one spent a lot of time browsing up near our spring, eventually went south into the woods at about 1830. I took almost a full roll of film, but it was already pretty dark, so I’ll be lucky if I get one or two good pics."

One late August, the moose turned to vandalism. It was likely rut-induced aggression in part, but there also seemed to be a little bit of planned fun involved, too. We had seen two bulls walk directly through wire trellises I had erected to support our grape vines, pulling half the stakes out of the ground and dragging the wire along with them. Often, moose are undeterred by fences, so that could have been just happenstance. However, once they got out on the "lawn" (the part of the field I keep mowed short), they purposely knocked over one of our white plastic chairs, and nudged the other around. Later, we found my DR brush mower tipped on its side. We also found the plastic mesh trellises I had placed around some new bittersweet vines in the old cellar hole had been ripped apart. The trellises weren't on a direct line to anywhere - in fact, it took a little work to get close to them. That looked like pure mischief.

A month later, we had another moose incident that seemed to confirm that the previous "vandalism" was purposeful.

Thursday 26 September 2002 - "When we got up this morning, we noted that one of the white plastic lawn chairs was tipped over. This is the third or fourth time in the past couple weeks. We are assuming moose action, but is he just being ornery, or what?

"Something that might tie in with the chair story: While I was cooking breakfast, Sally noticed a moose out by the truck. It was a fairly small bull with a fairly small rack. He came in our driveway, and must have stood stock still for five minutes or more, just staring at the stone wall. (Remember that the moose tore out the wire trellis I had strung along the wall for the grapes.) Finally, he stepped over the wall and walked over to the lawn chair (which I had turned upright a little earlier). He stood by the chair a short while (but didn’t knock it over), then walked over to the cellar hole and stopped in front of the bittersweet plants. (Remember that moose had torn down the green mesh trellis we had the bittersweet growing up.] He stared at the stake holding what’s left of the mesh, rubbed against it, and generally fiddled around in front of it for a couple minutes. Then he walked around the apple tree and cellar hole, and went up one of our birding trails into the cut. We were fascinated by the attention he paid to each of the objects that had been previously moose-vandalized. Most of the time he was walking around, I was outside taking pictures. He was obviously aware of us, and kept looking over at me, but with no particular interest, it seemed.

"One thing he did that was interesting, and Sally and I both noticed it: Dixie our cat, used to look at us, and then sort of tip her chin up, as if in some kind of acknowledgment. If we raised our chins at her, we would often get her to respond in kind. The moose was doing the same thing, and we nodded back and forth at one another, carrying on a nice “conversation” - although, like with Dixie, I don’t know what was said."

Oh yes, that moose knew exactly what he was doing!


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