My goal this week was to find a moose in the wild and get a decent photo of it. Bingo! Here it is!
Moose and I have a history of sorts.
First there was “Rocky and Bullwinkle” from my youth, a Saturday morning TV cartoon staple featuring the exploits of Rocky, the squirrel; Bullwinkle, the moose, and those Russian spies, Boris and Natasha. I remember an imaginary game we brothers would play, with Mom as Natasha and Dad as Boris.
Fast forward to 2013.
That’s when Sue spotted a 500-pound adolescent moose strolling through my daughter’s neighborhood in Manchester, CT. It came out from between a couple houses, walked across the street and disappeared between houses on the other side. There were several sightings around town that day. Unfortunately, it was hit by a car on the interstate highway south of town that night.
It was an unusual sight in urban Connecticut; there are only an estimated 100 moose in the entire state. It made the local evening news, that’s for sure.
Moose On The Loose, was one of the headlines of course, and the phrase quickly became an enduring signal for laughter in my family.
Even today, traveling up Spruce Street on the way home from school, the car is filled with words rhyming with moose in many phrases and sing-song. The six-year-old loves it and even the three-year-old joins in. Just think of all the words, real and nonsensical, that rhyme with moose and you get the idea.
Enter this week’s moose hunt.
It started with an invitation to paddle with friends in Vermont for a day. That’s a bit of a trek from Connecticut for just one day, so plans for a road trip started spinning through my head. How about seeing if there’s a good spot to paddle and find a moose? Research followed.
It was important to me that I be in my canoe on the water when I spotted my mouse. That was the best way to see a moose the way I’d always envisioned seeing one; belly-deep in the shallows, water and weeds dripping from the mouth.
There were some northern Vermont possibilities and some over in Maine, but a small body of water in northern New Hampshire a few miles south of the Canadian border drew my attention: reputedly better than the places in Vermont, but not nearly as out of the way as northern Maine.
So I chose East Inlet, a 60-acre lake north of Pittsburg, in the same area where the Connecticut River originates. According to one account: “In the evening, moose wade belly-deep in the water of this long, narrow, dammed-up creek section. Also expect to see great blue heron, waterfowl, and possibly otter, beaver, and mink.”
And that account didn’t mention the loons. How could I resist? Ever the optimist. I set aside a day to see my moose, and tentatively reserved a few hours the second day if I hadn’t spotted one. If I failed this year, a longer trip to northern Maine would be in the cards for next year.
I let my paddling friends in Connecticut know my plans in case anyone wanted to come along. And I dropped a line to my friend Leslie, a Florida paddling buddy who lives in New Hampshire, some two hours south of East Inlet.
It took a day or so of leisurely driving to get there, following the Connecticut River part of the way.
I was figuring to spend Monday and maybe part of Tuesday looking for a moose, but I arrived in Pittsburg about noon on Sunday, ahead of schedule. I arranged for my lodging and set off for East Inlet, a couple miles off of Route 3 down a pretty bumpy dirt road. The trail included a narrow plank bridge over the Connecticut River, a fast-moving, rock filled stream about 20 feet wide at that point.
The haunting cries of a loon, mirror-smooth water and tree-lined shores captured me immediately. The setting was really beautiful, both in sight and in sound. I was ready to go. I quickly unloaded the boat and shoved off.
As I drifted along, pushed by a very slight breeze, the silence was overwhelming. It’d been a long time since I’d been out of doors in a silence so complete I could hear my stomach gurgle. I was rewarded that day with the sound of a moose, but not an actual spotting of one.
The very loud crashing and splashing in the water some ways behind me in the tall weeds near the shoreline was unmistakably a moose. Certainly not an alligator. I didn’t get turned around fast enough to see the source of the racket, however.
A rain shower and blustery winds chased me off the water for the day right after that, but my spirits were high. There are moose here! And I still had all day Monday for the hunt.
At the crack of dawn the next day I was out on the water. As I drifted along, enveloped by the quiet, I heard a lot of splashing behind me. All I could think of was another paddler, a loud, clumsy one. But I knew I was alone.
I swung around and there it was: a big moose swimming across the lake. A long ways away, but unmistakably a moose. I shot off a few frames, pushing the limits of my 300-mm lens. I was pumped, barely halfway down the lake, not even an hour into the day, and I’d already seen a moose.
So I happily continued, poking around in the weeds, stalking a pair of blue heron, watching the geese and keeping my antennae up for a moose. A short while later I was just sitting quietly in the boat drifting along when I looked straight ahead at the trees along the nearby bank.
Standing there in belly-deep water, looking right at me and nearly blending into the trees behind him was a large moose, antlers and all, water and weeds dripping from his mouth, just as I had imagined one should look.
Carefully I grabbed the camera and got a few frames off. I picked up the paddle and started trying to get closer, but he slowly turned around, climbed the bank and disappeared into the trees. I was at a disadvantage; he’d seen—more likely heard—me before I spotted him.
But I was also very lucky. I had been out less than two hours and already had some great photos in the bag.
As I paddled back to the launch to meet up with friend Leslie, who had driven up to join me from Bethlehem, I was more than happy. The pressure was off, as Leslie later put it. My goal had been met early on.
We explored the lake together for a couple hours. We didn’t see another moose, but for Leslie, who has seen moose several times while hiking, and even around his house, it didn’t matter.
After a nice paddle and a lunch break overlooking the water, Leslie headed for home and I went back to the motel for a nap. I went out paddling again that evening and thoroughly enjoyed the wildlife and the quiet and the sunset, but did not see, or hear, another moose.
It didn’t matter; the moose gods had made my hunt a great success and I was happy.