Friday, April 18, 2008

Close encounter of the Bullwinkle kind

So now I've seen my second Maine moose, and this time it was up close and personal.

Last February, less than a month after I moved here, I saw my first Maine moose on the road between the office and my house, but he took off into the woods as soon as I began to slow down to get a picture. "Next time, maybe I'll get one of the kind that pauses to strike a pose," I wrote.

Heh. Careful what you wish for.

Thursday, I was headed for a school board meeting at a district about 35 miles north of here. The towns up there are mostly crossroads with a post office, a general store, sometimes a garage or a woodmill or something, and a smattering of homes, and there are long stretches of woods between them. I was about three miles from the high school when I came up over a rise and saw a moose just emerging from a pond by the side of the road and starting across.

I'm not sure how old he was -- his antlers were in the early stages of formation for the year and still just bulbous protrusions -- but he was no kid. Mature males average over half a ton, so there is plenty of incentive not to run into them with your car.

I was running a little late and was going 55 or 60 -- not terribly fast but fast enough that I had to put on the brakes with a little more vigor as I approached "X" on our converging paths. And our paths were converging, because, while he clearly had seen me, he hadn't come up with a plan yet and was still meandering from left to right and from the oncoming lane into mine.

So I applied the brakes more and contemplated going into the oncoming lane to go behind him, but of course that was the point at which Bullwinkle decided to stop and ponder the situation, with a hoof or two across the yellow line and his bulk squarely in that other lane.

Accordingly, I put the brake pedal completely to the floor and fortunately, as I came to a halt, he did take a step backwards out of my lane, turning slightly so that we were now facing the same direction, about six or eight feet apart, me looking slightly upward at his profile, which included a big white-rimmed eye that was staring at me askance and which, in a horse, would prompt you to say, very calmly, "whoa, big fella, whoa, now ... "

A horse, however, wants to avoid a confrontation with you, and especially wants to avoid harming you. A moose has no such instinct, and I couldn't tell whether he was deciding to run away from the devil-beast or to smash it into a pile of scrap. I don't think he had a clear idea of which way he was going to go with this, either, and, since my wheels had only momentarily stopped rolling, I decided to let them start up again.

As I pulled away, it occurred to me that I hadn't gotten a picture, despite having my camera on my hip. I looked up into the rearview mirror and he was still standing there, having turned back to his original crossing-the-road position but watching my car drive off, and, for a moment, I thought about getting out the camera and going back, but I couldn't imagine that, in the very small brain encased in that massive body, my coming back would be interpreted as a friendly gesture, so I just kept on going to the meeting and he just kept on going to wherever he had been headed.

Hence an illustration today that was originally part of an autumn post. Note the important message written on it. There was no such sign anywhere around this encounter, but you can't possibly post all the roads where these guys are apt to turn up around here.

After the meeting, I had to get some information from the district's facilities manager. They're likely to switch to wood pellets for heat, a topic I'll have to treat at some length another time -- we're in the middle of timber country and the district will save about 50 percent on the switch. As we were walking out, I told him about my encounter and he said, yes, that the moose were not only becoming more common on the roads but that, this time of year, you occasionally even find one kneeling in the roadway licking the asphalt because of the residue of salt from the winter.

For my part, I was glad this happened on the way to the meeting, with the sun still up, rather than the way home, since moose are black and not easy to pick out in the dark.

There have been a lot of moose incidents in the past few months, because the heavy snow has brought both moose and deer out onto the roadways and snowmobile trails, where they can travel more easily than in the deep snow.

The next day, I told the story to the woman who manages our biweekly paper in Rangeley, who told me her husband and some of his buddies had been going down a snowmobile trail a few weeks ago when they came upon a bull ambling down the trail ahead of them. They slowed down for awhile, figuring he'd head off into the trees at some point, but, when he didn't, they stopped for lunch.

However, even after that pause, it only took a few miles and there he was, still going his way and theirs, so they slowed down again and this time he did step off the path long enough for four of the five snowmobiles to get past him.

He attacked the fifth.

Being antler-less at the time, he used his front hooves to drive two holes through the cowling at the front of the sled, then smashed the windshield and sent the driver flying into the snow with some serious but non-life-threatening injuries. As the windshield disappeared, the driver had punched the moose in the nose and that, combined with the other sleds turning back to assist, drove the bull off into the woods.

People here like moose. They like to hunt them, mind you, and I've had moose meat, which isn't very different from venison, which in turn isn't very different from mutton. But they also like having them around, they like them as a symbol of Maine and even the old time Mainers are fascinated by them.

But from a distance. Stupid, huge and belligerent are not really a good combination when you're close enough for misunderstandings.


ronnie said...

Glad it was merely a close encounter and not a case of trading forensic evidence!

I've had city people express disbelief when I tell them how dangerous moose are. They seem to think that big, clumsy and ambling seems to equal docile. That's a bad mistake to make, in animals or in people. Moose will attack cars with no provocation, especially at night when the headlights seem to enrage them.

Your snowmobiler was incredibly lucky to get away with his life. A fact of which I am sure he is aware...

Unknown said...

"Your snowmobiler was incredibly lucky to get away with his life. A fact of which I am sure he is aware..."

I'm sure he is, too, but that's not the spirit in which I heard the story. Much the same attitude as quoted in "Two Years Before The Mast" and thus familiar to you both for moosely and for seafaring reasons:

"The same day, I met with one of those narrow escapes, which are so often happening in a sailor’s life. I had been aloft nearly all the afternoon, at work, standing for as much as an hour on the fore top-gallant yard, which was hoisted up, and hung only by the tie; when, having got through my work, I balled up my yarns, took my serving-board in my hand, laid hold deliberately of the top-gallant rigging, took one foot from the yard, and was just lifting the other, when the tie parted, and down the yard fell. I was safe, by my hold upon the rigging, but it made my heart beat quick. Had the tie parted one instant sooner, or had I stood an instant longer on the yard, I should inevitably have been thrown violently from the height of ninety or a hundred feet, overboard; or, what is worse, upon the deck. However, “a miss is as good as a mile;” a saying which sailors very often have occasion to use. An escape is always a joke on board ship. A man would be ridiculed who should make a serious matter of it. A sailor knows too well that his life hangs upon a thread, to wish to be always reminded of it; so, if a man has an escape, he keeps it to himself, or makes a joke of it. I have often known a man’s life to be saved by an instant of time, or by the merest chance,–the swinging of a rope,–and no notice taken of it. One of our boys, when off Cape Horn, reefing topsails of a dark night, and when there were no boats to be lowered away, and where, if a man fell overboard he must be left behind,–lost his hold of the reef-point, slipped from the foot-rope, and would have been in the water in a moment, when the man who was next to him on the yard caught him by the collar of his jacket, and hauled him up upon the yard, with–"Hold on, another time, you young monkey, and be d––d to you!"–and that was all that was heard about it."

Sherwood Harrington said...

Stupid, huge and belligerent are not really a good combination when you're close enough for misunderstandings.
I'd never thought of the U.S. as a moose before, but that's probably the way most of the rest of the world has thought of us for the past few years.

Anonymous said...

Stupid, huge and belligerent are not really a good combination when you're close enough for misunderstandings.

It's all a matter of perspective...I have always used these traits to my benefit during times of confrontation...

Anonymous said...

Ya know....Sherwood....I'm working real hard at sitting on my fingers.

That sort of thing ain't helping!


Sherwood Harrington said...

... and bless you for that, Dann. Grin doubled.

Mark Jackson said...

According to what I heard on the radio this morning you've been dissing the Pope *and* NPR. Have you no shame, sir?

Mike said...

At long last ... um, nope, not a shred of it.

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

8~) Now that was worth tracking down - thanks for the tip, Mark!