Thursday September 6, 2012

"Towering, antlerless

high as a church,

homely as a house

(or safe as houses).

A man’s voice assures us

Perfectly harmless...."

Elizabeth Bishop 1911-1979

EAST CHATHAM, N.Y.

Late one night a few weeks ago, our neighbors, Jackie and Paris, call and excitedly tell us they have a moose circling the house. Danny and I hop into the car, drive down the road, then cautiously up their dark driveway. We quietly exit the car taking care not to slam the doors and join Jackie on the deck. She is signaling towards the back of the house. We creep along, whispering to one another. Then just as we are able to see behind the house, a moose awkwardly ambles by!

He nonchalantly glances over at us, his tiny eyes reflecting pale blue in the outdoor house lights. Does he see us? He doesn’t seem to take us in at all and doesn’t miss an ungainly step as he walks around the aboveground pool and down the driveway. Then back again to circle the house once more.

What a strange creature -- giant flappy ears, large overhanging mouth and so much bigger than the biggest stag I’ve ever seen -- yet not huge. I realize this one is a young’un with a beginner’s velvety rack, two horns emerging with a pair of prongs each looking like dual, head held peace signs. He lumbers by for the third time.

n

Baby Bullwinkle stops, raises his head, twitches his tiny tail and again looks directly at us. We stop in our tracks as if we are playing moose redlight, greenlight. Again he walks away. And what a walk! His long, long legs move as if they were jointed with those old fashioned brass fasteners we used for term papers on three-hole punch paper, especially those awkward, knocked-kneed hind legs.

Back down the driveway he goes and then we hear him walking through the woods towards the pond, definitely a more suitable habitat for him. The ten-minute moose movie is over.

The Moose, Alces alces, is known even in the scientific world as the Moose. No need for defining adjectives -- this is not the American or Canadian Moose, nor the Common or Northern Moose. It is simply the Moose, a creature that is related to deer, elk and caribou, but looks so unlike any of its relatives that it needs no more descriptives.

From the literature I find that the word, "moose," comes from the Native American, "mus" or "moos" or "muns," meaning "he strips, eats off" from the Passaquoddy, the Abenaki, or Algonquin. The OED claims the same, but specifies "mus" is from the Narragansett and it means, "he trims and cuts smooth."

Whatever the derivation, moose do browse the forests and "eat, strip and cut smooth" vegetation from plants, bushes, trees and even from aquatic undergrowth. A full grown moose may eat 50-60 pounds of browse a day. Fortunately these are not herd animals for a herd would be able to strip a forest bare. They prefer to live singly or with young or as a family and need about a square mile of forest each. Moose like to feast on the leaves, twigs, branches, saplings and bark of spruce, tamarack, willow, aspen and striped maple which is also known as moose wood.

Moose are prevalent much further north in heavily wooded, less populated boreal forests of Canada and the U.S., especially in Maine, Minnesota, Michigan and the Rockies. They are beginning to re-populate northern Vermont, New Hampshire and New York. Certainly there have been the occasional sighting throughout out area, in the Berkshires and even into Connecticut.

Most females, after a first birthing of a single mooslet, mooseling, moosefawn (?), give birth to twins every year of so. After a year of so she sends her offspring on their way. This one is probably a wandering adolescent now finding his own way in the world. But will he eventually find a mate?

Full grown moose are magnificent creatures, huge and strong, standing 7-feet high and weighing up to 1,300 pounds. They are great swimmers and can run like the wind on those weird, pole-like legs -- up to an amazing 35 miles per hour. They might not have keen eyesight, but have excellent hearing and a good sense of smell.

n

Native Americans not only lived on moose meat, they made clothing and other items from moose leather. Herbalists incorporated ground moose antlers into concoctions to heal, among other illnesses, epilepsy. A moose can feed a family of four for a winter, though by February, the kids might whine, "Are we having moose again tonight!" And yes, there are still some hunters who really want to hang a moose head with a 7-foot rack on the wall of their grotty man caves.

Man isn’t the only enemy of these cervine creatures. Wolves and bears predate on young, sick, lame, or infirm moose. And the greatest natural killer is starvation during periods of heavy snow or long, cold winters.

Occasionally at night Danny and I hear a donkey-like bray calling from the woods. Un fortunately it is never near enough for us to creep out of the house with flashlights and track down. Could the moose have taken up residence near the pond in Hand Hollow? I look for those 5-7 inch prints or for those post-hole indentations in the mud, but have yet to find any trace of Baby Bullwinkle. Only that weird donkey-like wail, whine, bellow or bawl that we hear amid the constantly celebrating noisy insects.

Clellie Lynch is a regular Eagle
contributor.