Moose Season

On May 25, 2017, in Uncategorized, by admin

Last night was a three-moose homebound commute.  I was on my way back from Manchester Airport around 10pm, and I encountered more moose in five minutes than most Americans will see in their entire lifetimes.  Ignoring the inherent dangers of driving late at night around critters who weigh more than, and are considerably taller than, most horses, I personally consider this one of the benefits of Waterville Valley life.  Last night’s moose were all spotted in plenty of time, well off the road and minding their own moosey business.  I tell you all this to remind you that it is most definitely moose season, and to beg you to be careful on the roads — for your sake as well as that of our local moose population.  I also tell you this, because living in close quarters with moose can allow you a peek at one of North America’s most majestic creatures.

My job necessitates frequent OOV (Out of Valley) travel, which unfortunately often puts me on the road in the wee hours.  Late one spring night a couple years ago, I was scurrying home about 2am, paying my customary level of attention as I came up Route 49.  When I hit the 50 zone, I accelerated, but quickly saw a bull standing on the white line and slowed way down to avoid him (don’t trust moose — they’re not afraid, they behave erratically, and man, they can move quick when they want to).  I even rolled the window down and talked to him as I passed by.  I thought, great, moose sighting done, we’re good to go.  I accelerated back up to speed.

A mile later, as I headed up Hardy Hill, I had to lay on the brakes for a cow and calf hanging out on the shoulder.  Great, I thought… two sightings in a night.  Clearly done, time to go.  I zipped back up to speed, tired and enervated.  I was still going 50 when I came onto the last straight before Drake’s Brook and started to relax.

That, of course, was when I saw the very large bull dead ahead, walking up the northbound lane.  I slammed on the brakes and came to a stop a couple feet from the south end of a northbound moose.  He was nearly a new hood ornament.

There are probably a couple things we can learn from my near misses.  First, Waterville Valley has its own distinctive Moose Alley — the zone immediately following the start of the 50-mile-per-hour sign reliably produces sightings — and real danger, especially in the hours around sunset and sunrise. Don’t get complacent, though, as you can and will see moose anywhere on Route 49 from the old William Tell all the way to Town Square.

Second, even if you’re paying attention, moose are hard to see at night.  Their fur is dark, dull brown and blends perfectly with forest, and they are so tall that their eyes are typically above the line of your headlights. I often see their cream-colored socks before I see anything else.  Use your high beams and scan both sides of the road like your life depended on it — and especially at twilight and dawn, remember, 50 is the speed limit, not the minimum.  Slow down and buy yourself some time to react.

Reaction time is definitely a factor.  Another late night last fall, I was barreling home from the airport, once again at some ungodly interval after 2am, when sensible people, and probably even sensible moose, are already long in bed.  I was hurrying a bit, trying to stay ahead the last of the caffeine that was rapidly fleeing my system, and I was pushing where I knew I probably shouldn’t.  I had just entered the 50 mile per hour zone and was speeding up when I saw him: a fully grown bull, sporting a broad spread of antlers, perhaps 100 feet ahead and standing in the middle of the up-bound lane.  I hit the brakes hard and steered — but at a bit over 50 miles per hour, 100 feet goes by very quickly.  I was still moving at a good clip when I slid by his flank, missing him by a few precious feet.

Not all moose encounters are so fraught; one of my very best memories is of a moose my family came to know fairly well.  First, allow me to introduce my late mother-in-law, Phyllis.  Phyllis was a pretty spectacular lady on the whole, but she had a way of letting you know if she thought you’d done something dumb.  She also had a thing about moose, or specifically, never having seen a moose, after several trips to Waterville Valley with us on weekends, and an Alaskan cruise excursion virtually guaranteed to produce moose; hers didn’t.  After we moved full-time to Waterville Valley, she subtly let me know I had messed up in a significant way, dragging her daughter and grandchildren so far off the grid.  And her dissatisfaction with the moose situation came to a head during a week-long visit, when several carefully timed drives had failed to produce anything bigger or more exotic than a fox.  We had a fine family meal together at the Coyote, and she groused over dinner, “I don’t even think moose exist.”  When we left, I said to our kids, then tweens, “What do you say we go find a moose for Grandma?”

I had an ace up my sleeve.  All summer, we’d seen a cow hanging out in the small bog to the right side of the Tripoli Road as you headed up to the mountain.  We’d seen her so often that the kids had taken to calling her Charlotte.  To my great relief, Charlotte was there, keeping her appointed rounds.  Phyllis was so thrilled she squeezed my wife Nancy’s hand until it was blue.  We sat quietly and watched Charlotte dine, then eased away up to the perfect darkness of Lot 7 at the mountain to see if we could see a shooting star.  Once again, luck was on our side, and we saw several in rapid succession.  Later, Phyllis quietly let me know she now understood what drew us here.  And she’d finally seen her moose.

 

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