For Lack of a Moose

I make a big fat deal out of my first encounter with one of these beautiful brutes in the wild.

July 7, 2013 — I had pretty much come to terms with the fact that, no matter how long the New England chapter of my life ending up being, the entire thing might be invalid. All because I had never seen a moose in the wild.

Now, this might not be a big deal for a lot of you because, well, you have priorities that are in order and dreams that are appropriately large. Or you live in Louisiana. But for me, it’s been an incredible shame and disappointment.

You see, ever since I moved to New England five years ago from the moose-less Mid-Atlantic, I’ve seen moose crossing signs on just about every road. Even in places where it seems impossible for moose to cross. Like highways with 10-foot-tall guard walls or the breakfast cereal aisle at the grocery store.

Every stupid time I see one of those yellow, diamond-shaped signs, I go on hyper-alert, looking intensely at the edges of the road and the brush beyond and ignoring the traffic in front of me. So those signs have the opposite effect on me than they’re supposed to. But still, I’ve never seen a moose.

And keep in mind, I’m not talking about some rare species of tiny amphibian. I’m talking about the second largest mammal in all of North America. These beasts can grow to more than seven feet tall just at the shoulder, stretch ten feet long from nose to tail, and weigh close to a ton. You can run into one of these with your car, and it will meander away unscratched while you’ll have to be straw-fed applesauce for the rest of your life.

Basically, these guys should be spottable.

On top of that, most everyone I know in this area has their own moose encounter story, where they see one these majestic creatures lope out of the forest on the side of a road, look around with the confidence of a giant beast with no natural predators, and then head back into the mists that hide Moose Central.

But the most live bees in the wound comes from the fact that thanks to projects like OTIS and The New England Grimpendium, I’ve probed the most obscure corners of New England, taken so many of its roads less traveled, camped regularly under its cold stars. And in five years of doing that, I have never once seen a moose in the wild.

To put that in perspective, it’s the exact same number of Sasquatches that I’ve seen in the wild.

Until yesterday, jerks.

For I am extremely excited to announce that as of 12:07 p.m. on July 6, 2013, I am no longer in the Never Seen a Moose in the Wild club. So let’s party.

There are caveats. This is life, after all. First, I was in Canada yesterday. So it wasn’t a New England moose. Also, it was a juvenile, although still bigger than any deer I’ve ever seen. I’m still counting this one, guys. You can’t stop me.

We were on our way home from Quebec City. Both Google and TomTom wanted us to take the quickest route, all highway. But I wanted to squeeze in one last Canadian site, an abandoned asbestos mine, so I altered our route for backwoods roads that were almost paved with those moose-crossing signs.

For Canada also has moose crossing signs everywhere. Often those signs are paired with deer crossing signs so that it looks as if they’re warning you to beware of moose chasing deer.

The trek actually led us relatively close to, and just a few hours after, the terrible and deadly runaway train explosion that happened in Lac-Megantic yesterday. We were oblivious, of course, until we were alerted by a more-nonchalant-than-it-should-have-been-in-my-opinion email from my father-in-law hours after the fact.

Back to the moose, we were approaching the outskirts of a town called Thetford Mines. I was driving and saw ahead on the shoulder an impossibly thin, dark form. My brain couldn’t make any sense of it at first. The best it could do was to guess it was some sort of artsy lawn decoration. It tries so hard sometimes.

Then the spindly form twitched an ear.

And that was when I realized I was looking head-on at an honest-to-God moose, and it was as magical a moment as I hoped it would be.

Being a juvenile, the guy had no antlers, but it had to be about six feet tall to the crown of its head and that, combined with its dark brown coat and cartoonish nose made the identification unmistakable. My immediate reaction was to pump my fists in the air and scream a catch-phrase that has been out of fashion for fifteen years, while my wife, who had already received her moose badge a year or two ago, level-headedly grabbed the camera a took a couple of pics before it disappeared.

The encounter only lasted about 20 seconds. As soon as we realized what it was, the moose strutted gently away from the road, into a thicket, and on out into the wild, not with the gait of a scared animal, but with a brotherly “You’re welcome, man” aimed, I know with the fortitude of religious conviction, right for me.

It’s like my entire northeast existence has finally been consummated. Thanks, baby moose. Thanks, Canada. Thanks, asbestos.

And that’s just a gross way to end this.