Thursday, 10 November 2011

USA Today (9) – Once in a Blue Moon

Today was the day. 

Today was the day we were going Bull-winkling moose – in a canoe. 

Back up moose from leaflet.
But our Moose Safari was booked for the evening, so we had a whole day of Moosehead fun to fit in beforehand.

After getting burnt on the dirt roads of Burnt Jacket the evening before, we decided to take advice, so after a breakfast of Kool-Aid we visited Tourist Information who recommended a drive out to Moxie Falls.

We were rapidly beginning to realise that in Maine, it was only main roads that were treated to a tarmac topping. Any deviation – and you travel on gravel. Once we realised that we were again, five miles into an 18 mile stretch of un-made road, we did a nifty u-turn and left the logging trucks behind us.

Instead we drove out to Lily Bay State Park, further north along the banks of the lake. We had the park pretty much to ourselves and while damp, it was still beautiful. At last we had found our lakeside views. 

Moosehead Lake from Lily Bay State Park.
During our picnic we were joined by the funkiest caterpillar I’ve ever seen. Monochrome, spiky and with a taste for nachos!


Ski's optional.
As we hiked along the snow-free cross country ski trails, the trees dripped with moss, which we picked up from the ground and wore like wizards beards. While the floor was alive with a text book full of fungus. Tris by now had become a fungus photo addict, taking pictures of each and every one. I never realised the extent of his inner mycologist! I held a major celebration when he finally managed to walk past and let one go. They were pretty cool though – we named them – poppadom ‘shroom, cheese strings ‘shroom, naan bread, sombrero, half tomato etc. etc.

Mossy moss moss.
Daisyus orangicus.
Wizard T.
Look no hands (I've stuck it up my nose).

Cheese strings.

Naan bread.



We stopped to take in an amazing view of the lake before turning around and making tracks. But we weren’t the only ones making tracks – there were fresh moose tracks on the path we’d just walked along. Damnation, we must have just missed him. He was there, I could almost smell him. Stop taunting us you illusive moose!

Just missed him!
We hooked up with our Moose Safari and with Joni, our guide who told us she loved animals so much she liked to shoot them! On the hour long ride over to the ‘pond’ where Joni said the moose hung out, she talked about getting a fishing permit each year for a Christmas present and how she was thinking about getting a lifetime permit for her 15 month old toddler. We had officially entered the world of Grizzly Adams.

As we drove, we looked this way and that in the dimming light. Peering up side roads, in forest clearings, in shallow ponds created by massive beaver dams, where moose had been spotted recently. But nothing – where were they all hiding? Then it dawned on me, maybe we wouldn’t see any. Maybe we’d come all the way to Moosehead Lake and would leave empty handed. That would be so disappointing.

Joni carried on chatting about the winters at Moosehead. They were harsh with snow on the ground from November through to April. Until recently the winter months bought with them a different kind of tourist – the skiing, skidooing, snow shoeing kind. But not any more. Not since the authorities deemed the ski lifts unsafe and with an owner who wouldn’t invest in an upgrade, the whole Squaw Mountain resort had closed, leaving many of the locals without winter jobs. Things were certainly tough for Moosehead folk these days.

Yes - that's a pond!
We arrived at the ‘pond’ and unchained the canoes from the water’s edge. To call it a pond sold it short. Anywhere else it would have been a lake, it was huge – and shallow – apparently it’s the combination of size and depth which defines a lake in these parts. The shallowness of the pond means that grass shoots grow just under the surface, and it’s those tasty new shoots that the moose love to feed on. Joni surveyed the pond with her expert eye – she thought she saw something on the other bank. We all peered through our binoculars and collectively agreed that it was a log. Where were these damn moose?

Here moosey moosey moosey.
We launched our canoes and started paddling. The drizzle was persisting and the clouds were starting to close in – then someone pointed and one by one we all turned to look back to the bank we’d just launched from. And there he was, a young bull moose, with just the beginnings of antlers and a massive bulbous alcoholics nose, feeding in the shallows. Shoulder deep we watched him thrust his head under the water to graze, then crash back up through the surface, shaking the water from his ears, fresh grass hanging from his mouth. He didn’t mind his audience in the slightest, though we were careful not to get too close. We’d done it - we’d finally seen a moose. Sitting in our canoes, on a pond, the cold grey drizzle closing in around us, it was nothing short of magical.

Holy smoke - it's a moose - and we really were that close.

Joni spotted another moose on the other side of the pond, so we turned our canoes around and headed off. It wasn’t a race – but Tris and I won! 

Just like Hawaii 5-0.

David Attenborough.
Yet again, we sat and watched another young bull feed, totally moose-struck, until he finally ambled out of the water and back up onto the bank. It was only then that it dawned on me how huge they are – with their disproportionately long stilty legs they can tower up to 8ft tall. 

Legs up to his arm pits.

Generally they are very placid and not really bothered by humans. That is unless the human is in a car and the moose is in the way. Hit a moose and those long flailing legs have been known to Wurlitzer like a can opener and take the tops off cars and heads off their drivers. It’s a good incentive to keep your eyes on the shadows.

With our young bulls back under cover and night drawing in, it was time to leave the pond and head back to civilization. On reflection, I was glad we’d had to be patient and wait for our moose. After all the anticipation, when we did finally track them down, the thrill was off the scale. While this was every day for Joni, it was once in a blue moon for me. It’s an encounter I’ll remember forever.

A once in a Blue Moon experience.

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