Of the close kind
illustration by brad fitzpatrick
If you see three cars pulled over on a lonely road beside a swale, it’s a good bet somebody’s spotted a moose. Your odds of spotting a moose, up-close and tick-ridden, are better in New Hampshire than other places, like Kansas or Hawaii. To see a moose is a kind of miracle. They are so big. So dark. So moosey. The bumper sticker “I brake for moose” rings true. We brake for moose even when they aren’t in the road.
Sadly, a sighting is less likely than it used to be as the moose population dwindles due to the myth of global warming. The ticks love it. The moose, not so much. One moose can host up to 75,000 of the little bloodsuckers.
“Does it kill ’em?” asks the innocent.
“Whelp,” says the native, “Don’t do ’em any good.”
Fish and Game estimates that about 3,700 moose amble our woods, half as many as 10 years ago. This year they’re issuing just 51 hunting permits, fewer than ever before. Moose admirers might say it’s not few enough.
In my 60-plus years of ambling these woods, I’ve seen four close up. One from the passenger seat of a Porche Boxster. I didn’t see the whole moose, just the boney knees.
Once, when I was walking my dog behind the house, a moose appeared. Not close enough to poke. But almost. Big as a shed. I leaned down to grab the dog. Moose gone. No sound. Just gone.
Until we found the steaming pile of moose berries, I thought I’d hallucinated it.
Another time, my husband, John Rule, and I were hiking down Cardigan Mountain in winter at dusk. We stopped a hundred feet short of a wall that blocked the trail entirely. Except it wasn’t a wall.
Another time, walking a dusty road, my dad pointed out animal tracks. Fox. Deer. Bobcat scat. I said, “Dad, you could be making this up as you go. You could look at a divot and say it’s a Sasquatch track. I wouldn’t know the difference.”
“Moose,” he said, and pointed.
We rounded a bend. Four more moose tracks — with moose standing in them.
One of my treasures is a moose antler John found in Danbury, just the tip sticking up through the last of the spring snow. When I walk around with it in the world, I get questions.
“What is it?”
“Is it real? Is it carved? What’s it made of? Wood? Clay?”
“It’s bone. It grew on the head of a moose.”
“How’d you get it?”
“I chased the moose down and ripped it off the side of his head. Would have got the other one too, but he was too quick.”
Steve, a recent acquaintance of mine, tells about his elderly relative, Nan Davis, an independent woman, who lived alone in the wilds of Greenville. Each evening, Steve’s mom would give Nan a call to make sure she’d survived the day. One evening, the phone rang and rang. Mother was about to hop it the car and drive out, when Nan finally picked up, breathing hard.
“What’s going on?” Mother said.