Posts Tagged ‘moose’

2015 Maine Moose Factoids

The tallies are in.  According to the Maine Department of Transportation, as of September 2015 (the end of the fiscal year as far as moose statistics go) there were 327 car-moose collisions.  Fifty-five of those accidents resulted in human injuries, including one fatality.  Here is a photo supplied by the Portland Press Herald of one such collision, in which the body of the moose sheared off the roof of the car upon collision.  Incredibly, the driver of the car walked away without a scratch; but the front-seat passenger suffered severe brain injury.  Despite a gruesome prognosis, she is making a slow but miraculous recovery.  The crash did not occur along a deserted rural Maine road; it happened on the I-95 Maine Turnpike. The moose was killed upon impact.

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The picture shows precisely why car-moose collisions are often fatal for humans.  Unlike deer, which hit the car’s grill, a moose is dramatically taller, bigger, and exponentially heavier.  The impact is usually at a vehicle’s windshield or roof level.  Basically the bulkiest part of the moose’s  1000 – 1500 lb body ends up in the driver’s lap, often crushing the riders to death.

Moose Party

Around 7:20 pm this evening my husband and I decided to take a stroll. Any thoughts of a walk were quickly dashed when I noticed a bull moose in the water at the pond, dining on weeds. This would be the only show in town tonight and moose-watching would take precedence over any kind of walk.  As we stood quietly observing the bull moose we were joined by our second-closest neighbors who live a mile up the road, who were meandering by on their bikes. They are a bit jaded by moose sightings since they retired to Maine last year from  Anchorage Alaska and moose sightings are both common and frequent there. As we were shmoozing, a multigenerational carload of folks who live 2.5 miles down the road also stopped to gawk and talk. By now we were having a moose party at the bottom of our driveway, while Bullwinkle eyed us unconcernedly as he munched away.

How I love this life in Maine!

What We Missed

We are currently in our home town to celebrate several life cycle events with children, grandchildren and friends.  While we are away, our webcams caught this early morning visitor running up our driveway.  It looks like he was heading for the front door.  Ironically if we had been home we would have probably missed him altogether, since our webcams would have been turned off and at 6 a.m. we were unlikely to have been next to the window.

(Postscript 6/16/2016: when we returned to Maine we found the moose had tried to wander into our orchard, got caught on the fencing, and dragged a fence post and wire 15′ until he could get untangled.   Fortunately only a small branch on one of my apple trees was damaged.)

A bull moose in velvet trots up our driveway

A bull moose in velvet trots up our driveway

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Moose on the Loose!

I took this picture of a bull moose on a buggy Spring day. The moose was feeding while immersed in the pond to get away from the bugs.

I took this picture of a bull moose on a buggy Spring day. The moose was feeding while immersed in the pond to get away from the bugs.

I have to admit, both my husband and I have something of a moose fetish.  I can’t logically say why, but we absolutely love these giant, ungainly creatures beyond all reason.  How can the Hagrid of the animal world be so graceful? I’ve seen several moose since moving to Maine and I never tire of a moose sighting or lose my sense of wonder.  Our moose love affair even extends to kitschy decor, which if you know me, is atypical and bizarre since I hate souvenirs, tschotchkes and kitsch of all kinds.  Yet we have a moose salt and pepper shaker, a moose bread board, a moose coaster set, a moose hook for hanging towels, and even moose shower curtains (many of these were gifts from friends and family, and much appreciated).

We’ve had a few moose visiting our property over the years.  One horrendously buggy Spring day, a bull moose, his antlers in velvet (the soft coating on new antlers that grow in the Spring) , was feeding in the pond beneath our house, where he had immersed to get some relief from the blackflies, ticks and deerflies.  Like an idiot and completely in awe, I crouched behind a tree and with a long lens, took dozens of pictures.  Since I hadn’t expected this encounter, I didn’t come coated with the necessary bug spray; in those 15 minutes I suffered over 75 painful insect bites on my ankles while taking pictures (but it was worth it, even though I was itchy, swollen and miserable for 3 weeks afterwards!)

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This poor guy's rump is covered in ticks.  Many moose in the White Mountains are victims of Tick Wasting Disease.

This poor guy’s rump is covered in ticks. Many moose in the White Mountains are victims of Tick Wasting Disease.

After immersing his head completely in water, he shook off his antlers much like a dog would do.

After immersing his head completely in water, he shook off his antlers from side to side much like a dog would do.

 

 

One time we weren’t home, but our webcam caught a cow moose near my apple orchard in the distance.

This moose photo was taken by our webcam when we were away from home.  It's along the periphery of the apple orchard fence.

This moose photo was taken by our webcam when we were away from home. It’s along the periphery of the apple orchard fence.

Another time on a late winter night,  I heard noise directly under our bedroom window, and there in the snow were a mother moose and her baby, stripping the bark from our beech trees.  Even though they were only a few feet away, it was a pitch black night and the flashlight wasn’t powerful enough to really get a good look at them.

Two summers ago, I was reading in the hammock outside when suddenly my dog cried “woof.”  A large cow moose ran through our property and moved in the direction of my neighbor’s rustic cabin (his wife saw the moose half an hour later while picking wild berries on their property).

I’ve also seen several moose along our road while driving at dusk, and in Deer Hill bog while hiking and driving.

Two moose nuzzle one another on the road leading to my house

Two moose nuzzle one another on the road leading to my house

But with all of those sightings, my husband was unappeased.  “I won’t be satisfied until I see a big bull moose walking up our driveway,” was his common refrain.  Up close and personal.

Today, exactly that happened!

It was an hour before sunset.  I was sitting at my dining room window, typing away on my laptop.  I love the view from this spot.  Now that the leaves are gone from the trees, I can see down the length of our driveway all the way to Little Pond (an ambitious name:  it’s really a gigantic bog); and out of the side windows, I can look out onto the apple orchard and the woods beyond.

Suddenly I became aware of a big, dark mass in my peripheral vision.  I looked outside:  it was an absolutely gigantic bull moose with a very impressive rack of antlers meandering up our driveway! My first thought was not to get a camera;  it was to scream down to the basement, where my husband has an office, to make sure he would see it too:  “Look outside your window!  It’s a moose!” I shrieked.  I was practically hysterical, I was so excited.  I wasn’t sure my husband could hear my shouting, since his hearing aid had broken over the weekend, so I was yelling as loud as I could down the stairs (fortunately our windows were closed so the moose wasn’t frightened off by my voice).  My husband was on an important business call and tried to control his emotions.   He was unsuccessful.  “Gotta go!  I’m looking at a moose a few feet away from me!” he said to his coworkers in Indiana, who were undoubtedly scratching their heads and wondering what the heck he was drinking. By the time my husband let me know that he was looking at it, the moose was positioned in such a way that a photograph would have been impossible.  But just before that, he stopped only 2′ from the house, sniffed our parked car, and continued moseying, till he reached the outlying fence of my apple orchard and then he walked into the woods, quickly blending in with the trees and disappearing from sight.

My husband and I were like two little kids, overcome with excitement and jumping up and down.  “We saw it!  We saw it!  It really happened!  A bull moose actually wandered up our driveway!”

A few minutes later I got the notion to set out in the same direction as the moose.  I was carrying my smartphone, which has moose call apps.  One is of a cow moose in heat (not a very pretty sound!) and the other is of a male in rut.  Perhaps this was a foolish idea, since this time of year is rutting season, the mating season for moose, and bull moose consumed with desire are truly dangerous animals.

Alas, (perhaps it was ultimately for the best where safety is concerned) the moose calls on my smartphone did not entice Mr. Moose to return.  I was happy, however, that our very smart bull moose was wandering on our side of the road.  You see, it is moose hunting season now, and somewhat oddly, the border between two different Wildlife Management Districts (WMD’s) happens to be the road in front of my house.  On our side of the road, WMD #12, moose hunting season finished a week ago; but just across the street on the other side of the road, WMD #15, hunting season is now through November 29th.

A moose's hoofprint is heart-shaped.

A moose’s hoofprint is heart-shaped.

On the Wild Side

Friday was just about a perfect day.  The sky was a deep blue, with puffy white clouds, and the air was clear and dry, in the mid-70s.  The breeze was light enough to keep away the bugs (although the blackflies are gone, huge swarms of mean-spirited deerflies have replaced them and can make a walk outdoors an exercise in masochism) but not so windy that there would be chop in the water at the lake.  In other words, a perfect day to go fishing.

Kayaking and fishing on Virginia Lake.  I was the only one there.

Kayaking and fishing on Virginia Lake. I was the only one there.

It was my first visit of the year to Virginia Lake, an off-the-beaten-track sort of place that even most Mainers don’t know about.  While the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife stocks many local ponds, lakes and rivers with trout and land-locked salmon, they don’t stock Virginia Lake.  Yet because of its more remote location, it isn’t over-fished and I often have good luck there (I’ve caught bass, trout, and white perch at Virginia Lake).

Two days before, there had been a 24-hour downpour of Biblical proportions.  Fortunately I live on the side of a mountain with good drainage, instead of along a river or valley, because there was plenty of flooding.  Virginia Lake was so full from the latest rainfall that the shoreline was covered a good 10 or 15 feet with deep water.

While June is known to be a rainy month in Maine, it has severe implications for the Common Loon population.  The loon is an amazing bird.  Similar to a duck, it has several unique characteristics that make it a favorite.  Its black and white markings and beady red eyes are beautiful; its call is haunting, eerie and magnificent; and its capacity for diving for its food and staying submerged under water for up to 3 minutes is nothing short of remarkable.

Also unique are its webbed feet; the loons’ legs are placed way back on its body, which enables loons to dive as much as 200′ under water.  That is not a typo:  two hundred feet!

The downside of their feet being placed so far back on their bodies is that while they are adept at swimming and diving, they are extremely handicapped when it comes to walking.  Because of this, they build their nests at shoreline, because they are mostly helpless when they are not on water.

The problem is that when heavy June rains flood the shoreline, their nests are often destroyed, and this adversely affects the loon population.  Naturalists have tried to encourage nesting loons by building floating platforms or rafts on the water, and while at first wary, loons eventually come to accept the floating “arks,” as is evident on Virginia Lake.  The platforms are intentionally placed on parts of the lake that are not easy to spot from the ground, so they will remain undisturbed by humans.  Many other lakes and ponds in Maine are experimenting with different types of floating structures to encourage loons to nest and stabilize or increase the loon population.

The loons at Kezar, Kewaydin, and Virginia Lakes, while far from tame, don’t seem to mind sharing the water with kayakers such as myself, and they often swim within 15′ of my boat.  Last year on Virginia Lake I was able to follow the progress of a mama and papa loon and their one chick over a two-month period.   At first the baby would mostly hitchhike on its mother’s back but within a couple of weeks it swam alongside its parents.  I was privileged to see the incredible patience of the parents trying to teach their baby to fish!  The adult loons would swim directly in front of their baby, and then dip in the water.  Then they’d go diving for a fish.  When they’d catch the fish, they would lay it in front of the baby on the water.  As the dead fish would start to sink, they’d urge the baby to dive to retrieve it.  Again and again they placed the fish in front of the baby, trying to teach it to dive.  This went on for days until one day, the baby finally got it!

On Friday I discovered the location of the floating platform, and sure enough a mama loon was nesting there, resting atop her eggs.  It was a good thing the platform was there – – the nest would surely have been wiped out due to the recent storm had it been on the shoreline.

Nesting loon on Virginia Lake.  It is on a floating platform built for this purpose.

Nesting loon on Virginia Lake. It is on a floating platform built for this purpose.

If you want to hear the call of a loon, click here.

This was not my lucky day, however, in terms of fish.  I caught a white perch but it was too small to keep, so I threw it back into the lake, to live another day.

All around me, neon blue and black & white dragonflies and damselflies flew, occasionally landing on my kayak or on my sleeve (they are completely harmless, and in fact help keep the mosquito population at bay).

Suddenly near a more isolated, marshy section of the lake I heard a splashing sound.  I was very excited – – I knew it had to be a moose  (imagine the sound of an adult person walking the length of a swimming pool whose water is 4′ high – – that is the sound of a moose in water).  I quietly paddled my kayak closer to the sound.  There were a lot of marshy plants separating my boat from the area where the moose was wading, so it was hard to see anything except the top of the cow moose’s head (female, no antlers), who was about 50′ away.  What a thrill! Once she heard my paddle in the water, she left the marsh and disappeared into the woods.

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You may have to use your imagination for this one. The red arrow points to the head of the moose. There was heavy vegetation separating me from the moose, and since I was sitting in the kayak it was hard to see up over the plants. I wasn’t about to stand up in my kayak for a better picture – – I would have capsized!

Returning to the shore where my car was located, I stowed my boat  and went for a dip in the lake.  The water was freezing at first but I soon got used to the chill and relished the clear, clean water.  Bass were swimming under me, flitting away as I splashed!

As I left the lake, I saw a (non-poisonous) snake crossing the dirt road, and a snapping turtle looking for a place to lay its eggs.  A huge grey heron flew in front of me.  A porcupine scuttled off into the woods.

What a show!  It was almost as if the wildlife were welcoming me back to Maine.

 

Spring Has Sprung

Unlike my home town, in which magnificent blossoming cherry trees, crabtrees and redbuds herald the onset of Spring, here in the Maine mountains it’s not so much about a show of color, since most of the trees are pine, birch, maple and beech.  Rather, it’s a time when our little world seems to wake up after a long, hibernating winter.

Yesterday we saw our first moose tracks along the bottom of the driveway.  Usually the moose begin to surreptitiously visit the pond at night around this time of year.  As it warms up and the blackflies become unbearable the last two weeks of May, the moose start visiting the pond during the daytime to get relief from the incessant biting of the blackflies as well as ticks, mosquitoes and deerflies, and it makes for some exciting encounters and great photo ops (from a safe distance).

The North Conway Daily Sun (North Conway is just over the border from us, in New Hampshire) reports that the bears are already up to an unusual amount of mischief  in populated areas.  It seems they’ve figured out how to open car and truck doors and they’ve been vandalizing vehicles in the middle of the night (no one around here locks their cars or trucks when parked at home, since there is almost never any theft).  How do police and NH Fish & Game officials know it’s bears and not people doing the vandalizing?  One bear left behind scat (yep, stinky bear poop) on the front and back seats. Sticky, sandy paw prints were left inside the car as well as on the doors.  (No, detectives did not fingerprint – – I mean paw print – – the vehicles).   Imagine being the person stuck with detailing that vehicle!

One bear let himself in to someone’s car – – and then managed to become trapped when the door shut behind him.  After ripping the lining on the doors, visor, and dashboard, it broke the front side passenger window and finally managed to escape.  There have been more than a dozen bear break-ins reported since the end of April.

The bears’ only objective is food.  They are hungry after a long winter of hibernation.  In most cases, vehicle owners had left snack food in their cars.

One 400-lb  bear – – after being trapped and moved to a different location many miles into the forest – –  returned, so it was again trapped and – – sadly – – euthanized.  But the bear break-ins have continued so clearly that bear did not act alone.

Lt. Chris Perley of the Conway Police Department urged residents to safeguard their food and garbage. He said drivers should lock their vehicles at night to protect against four-legged invaders.

“These bears can open a door, but as far as we know, no one has ever reported any bears that can pick a lock,” he said.

Not yet.

Meanwhile, because the days have been cool and windy, I’ve been dashing like a madwoman to get my garden planted before the blackflies become intolerable.  The breeze keeps the bugs away.

Everywhere you look Maine-uhs are tilling soil in preparation for the short growing season.  No one has really started planting yet except Yours Truly.  That’s because the “frost date” in my part of Maine is until May 15, which means one risks losing whatever one has planted to frost if planted before May 15.  But I will be travelling at the peak planting dates, and I wanted to avoid those pesky bugs, so I decided to take a chance and plant a little early this year.

I planted rainbow Swiss chard and red bell peppers; lots of stevia (a plant whose leaves have 3x the sweetness of sugar; you dry the leaves and crumble them into whatever needs sweetening and it’s unprocessed and calorie-free); and lemon verbena (the dried leaves make wonderful tea that completely relaxes me without making me feel drowsy; it seems to relieve my insomnia),

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Yes, our landscape is rugged. So rugged, and full of tree stumps from old logging, rocks and roots, that I simply cannot till the soil. We got estimates in the thousands of dollars to have it excavated but that was not exactly cost-effective for a vegetable garden. Hence the raised beds.

 

Good overview of the solar panels, composter (to left of solar panels), pots and raised bed garden.

Good overview of the solar panels, black plastic composter (to left of solar panels in bottom corner), pots of herbs,  and raised bed garden.  We’ve never planted grass because we don’t want to have to mow more than necessary, and we want to keep the rugged look of our land.

 

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Stevia and Lemon Verbena, red bell peppers, and tomato cages awaiting tomatoes, along with marigolds, geraniums, and petunias. Our woodshed is in the backtround on the left; our house is in the background to the right.

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Stevia and Lemon Verbena

 

In this box I've planted some chard and will add kale next week.  I had to be careful to choose vegetables that would not grow too tall, lest they throw a shadow on our solar panels, which powers the house.

In this box I’ve planted some chard and will add kale next week. I had to be careful to choose vegetables that would not grow too tall, lest they throw a shadow on our solar panels, which powers the house.

 

I also planted geraniums and marigolds alongside; they act as a repellent against bugs and will hopefully reduce pests without the use of insecticide.   I still have to buy some kale and tomato seedlings in the coming week.  The garlic that I planted in the Fall is doing really well.

I had covered the planting box with straw mulch to help the garlic overwinter.

I had covered the planting box with straw mulch to help the garlic overwinter.

I managed to prune the apple trees, too.  The first buds are slowly appearing.

Tiny leaves are forming on the apple trees

Tiny leaves are forming on the apple trees

 

As a final touch my husband drilled some pots onto the entry stair posts, and I planted some purple petunias to make the front door a little more welcoming and less austere.

(I photoshopped an artistic filter onto the picture, but this is really how it looks)

(I photoshopped an artistic filter onto the picture, but this is really how it looks)

I am leaving much to chance, since I will be traveling to Israel for a couple of weeks starting next week and I won’t be around to water, so hopefully there will be adequate rainfall while I’m gone.

The bright sun has the bees buzzing around their hives.  It was warm enough today to make some yogurt (it cultures only in warm conditions; I have it in my car that is parked in the sun).

We can see the pond at the bottom of the driveway quite well in winter.  Probably by next week when the foliage returns, the pond will no longer be visible.

We can see the Little Pond across from the bottom of the driveway quite well in winter from the house (you can see very blue water peeking out from behind the trees if you look carefully in this photo). The pond will no longer be visible as soon as the foliage returns, probably by next week.

 

 

The only thing I haven’t been able to do yet is go fishing.   With the stiff breeze, the water on the lake gets very choppy and I’m always over-cautious when it comes to kayaking this time of year.  The local lake and pond ice melted only a week ago (this is known as “ice out” and contests are held in every town throughout Maine for residents to guess when “ice out” will take place each year) and the water is still freezing cold.  If I were to capsize the kayak, G-d forbid,  it would be difficult to make it to even a close-by shore before hypothermia set in.  So until the wind dies down, I am not going to venture out in the kayak to try my luck with fishing, even though I of course wear a life-vest whenever I am on the water.  Just this week someone was rescued from a lake when their canoe tipped, and the person needed to be rescued because hypothermia set in so quickly due to the very cold water temperature.  In his case, though, the lake was populated with other boaters.  Around where I live, things are very quiet, and it’s more than likely that no one would be around  to rescue me if an accident ensued.  Better safe than sorry.

Moose Zone

I am living on the edge – – literally.  My side of the street is Moose Zone 12 –  – but if I step across the street I’m in Zone 15.

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This sign was posted on my street at the start of moose hunting season

The way it works is this:  every year a certain number of permits are issued to hunt Maine’s 70,000+ moose.  Because the demand is high and the number of issued permits low, there is a moose lottery conducted in the summer for the following Fall’s hunting season.  Maine residents have a better chance than people from out-of-state:  no more than 10% of the permits in each District will be issued to non-residents.  The lotto costs $15 for one ticket, but if you actually win, you will pay $52 for the permit if you are a Maine resident, and a whopping $585 if you are from out-of-state.  Ten additional permits are granted to the highest bidders at an auction.  This year the highest bidder “won” a permit for $11,734.56!  The amount of permits issued differs based on the zone.  Northern Maine, which has a prolific moose population, issues as many as 800 permits in a single zone and there is more than an 80% success rate in getting a moose;  but southern Maine, which has far fewer moose, may issue only 15 permits, and the chance of actually getting a moose  is only about 15%.  This year a total of 4,110 permits were issued in Maine.  On my side of the street, Zone 12, 55 permits were issued and moose could be hunted only October 14 – 19.  Across the street, in Zone 15, only 25 permits were issued, and hunting is allowed November 4 – 30.  For first-time applicants who are Maine residents, the chance of winning a permit is only 1.9 percent, and for a non-resident, there is only a 0.2 percent chance of winning a permit.  There are a lot of applicants!

No one can deny that the annual moose hunt is a huge moneymaker for Maine:  the lottery and permits alone generate more than  $1.5+ million for Maine.  Hunting in general is a huge source of income for Maine:  it generated $1.4 billion in Maine in 2012.  It’s not only about the licensing fees.  Hunters are usually accompanied by friends and relatives.  Hunting parties buy food, gas, and lodging.  After a successful hunt, they will turn to taxidermists and meat processing plants.

Over 300,000 fishing licenses were sold last year, as were 210,000 hunting licenses.  Even if only a fraction of that number of hunters were successful, that’s a lot of dead animals.  But old-timers say that coyotes have overtaken Maine, and greatly and adversely affected the balance of wildlife here.  “Hunting is not what it used to be,” they insist.

There are people in my town for whom killing a deer means they will have meat this winter, so I do not judge.  But I do not hunt, nor do I have a desire to do so, and it’s not only because I am not permitted to hunt for religious reasons (according to Jewish Law, animals may be killed only within the guidelines of kashrut).   In fact, I somewhat dread hunting season.  I make sure to wear a  fluorescent orange vest whenever I leave my house for a walk, and my dog wears a fluorescent orange bandana, lest we be mistaken for dinner.  I have run into many a rifle-toting, camouflaged hunter in my backwoods walks, and they have always been polite and not at all scary.

But I  mourn the loss of any moose, whose grace despite its ungainly proportions never fail to awe and inspire me.

The only animals I shoot are with my camera.

The Eagle Has Landed

Many people ask us, “What do you do for Shabbos?  Isn’t it boring being out there by yourselves in the woods for an entire Shabbos?”

We do have guests for Shabbos; sometimes friends or family from home, other times complete strangers; but it’s always interesting (we are members of shabbat.com – an international web host-guest “matchmaking” service  – check it out!).

This past Shabbos, we did not have guests, but it was certainly not dull!

At 6:15 this morning, I was awakened by a very loud noise outside my bedroom window.  I recognized the noises.  First there was a soft squeak.  Then there was a very loud, high-pitched screech.  Then flapping, like a bird taking flight.  But it wasn’t any old flapping. It was very loud and deep, like something HUGE.  How can I describe the sound?  If you shook out a bath towel on a windy day, it would make a certain type of fluttering noise.  But if you took an 8′ x 10′ tarp and shook it out the same way, it would not be a fluttering noise – it would be a low thunder.  Instinctively, I  knew immediately – it was an eagle!  But:  I was in a Nyquil-induced fog.  Stupidly lazy, I yelled at my husband:  “Quick!  Go to the window!  There is something out there!”

Bless him, my husband awoke like his pajamas were on fire and ran to the window, only to see a huge dark wingspan that looked as wide as our driveway (actually, the wingspan is a maximum of 7′) rising from the ground, sailing up into the sky.  That was it – mere seconds – and the eagle, grasping whatever little creature had squeaked when caught by its talons – – was gone.  A couple of years ago I’d seen a young bald eagle hanging around the bog at the bottom of the driveway – – when young, bald eagles are one color and look just like golden eagles; they develop their iconic white-feathered heads when they reach maturity, at about age 5.  But this was the first time one was seen directly on our property – – and right beneath our bedroom window!

A little while later, my husband was about to start davening, when he looked outside.  There, in my orchard, were two wild turkey hens, accompanied by two chicks.  When they sensed they were being observed, they ran quickly into the woods.

Yesterday – –  Friday – –  it had rained non-stop for 24 hours; a hard, unremitting, driving, pounding rain, falling in sheets; we got 6″ of rain and there were flash flood warnings on the roads.  But today it was absolutely perfect.  The sky was a deep azure blue; there was a stiff breeze so the bugs were few; the sun shone brightly and it was 77 degrees.  After davening and lunch we went for a walk, but upon our return I felt like I needed some more outdoors time.  Around 3:30 pm I was laying in the hammock, looking into the woods, relaxing.

Suddenly my dog gave a short, quiet, “Woof!” and ran towards the woods.  Much to my utter amazement, a moose cow was running through our property!  Again, the whole thing was over in seconds.  Had it not been for my dog, I would have missed the moose entirely.

Later in the day we walked over to the cabin  down the road to report the moose sighting to our weekend neighbors.  “Yes!” said the woman, “I was just out blackberry picking in our woods and I suddenly heard a noise.  I turned around, and there was a moose not ten feet away from me!  I don’t know who was more startled!  I looked at her, she looked at me . . . and then the moose simply walked away.  I am so excited!” she said, giving her husband a huge hug.

I don’t know what makes seeing a moose so exciting, but it is!  I never get tired of this experience.  How a creature so huge and ungainly looking can somehow move with such grace and speed, and camouflage itself so effectively so as to “disappear” in front of your eyes – – it’s both wondrous and endearing.

So that was our Shabbos . . . certainly not boring!

Moose Calf

Traveling along the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire today, I saw this moose calf next to the road. (Click to enlarge.)

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So, apparently, did everyone else.

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(The mama moose was nowhere to be seen.)

Impromptu Tour Guide

Due to cutbacks by the United States Postal Service, our local post office has dramatically reduced its hours.  Now it’s open for transactions only M-F from 7:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m, and 2:15 pm  – 4:15 p.m. in the afternoons.  The post office delivery truck drops off the mail around 8:30 a.m., and it’s placed in PO boxes around 9 a.m., so the window to get one’s daily mail in the morning is very narrow indeed.  The lobby without counter service is open during the middle part of the day if you have a post office box, but if you get a notice in your box that a package has arrived and you aren’t there during counter service times – – too bad.  You must return during one of the two-hour windows to claim your package.  It gets worse:  the routes of both FedEx and UPS work out so that they arrive at the post office between 12:30 – 1:30 pm, when the post office is closed, so packages headed to the post office cannot be delivered or redeemed if they are being delivered to your post office box as an address.  A solution to this problem would be for UPS and FedEx to place a delivery box outside, so the postmaster could access it during open hours, but UPS and FedEx have so far been uninterested in doing so.  It is very likely that in the next 2 years, our local post office branch will cease operating altogether.

I try to coordinate a visit to the post office with our transfer station – – also known as the garbage dump — which is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 – 4.  We have no trash pickup here – all self-generated refuse must be taken to the dump in our car. The post office is 6 miles away and the dump is another 2.5 miles further up the road, and what with the cost of gas nowadays, I try to limit my visits.  Also on Tuesdays, our tiny library is open from 5 pm – 7 pm (the other day is Shabbat, so I can’t visit then).  It’s a 3-mile trip one way from home to the library but it’s on the way to the post office and dump, so I try to stop by the library on the way home.  Still, I do have time to kill from the post office closure at 4:15 to the library’s opening time of 5 p.m.

So yesterday I stopped by the lake.  I couldn’t go swimming or kayaking due to it being the Nine Days (leading up to Tisha B’Av), but I was content to sit there and watch a 5-year-old boy fishing with his father.  The look of joy on the little boy’s face when he caught a fish (as well as the proud dad’s) was priceless, and I never tire of the serene view of the lake, clouds, and surrounding mountains, and the quiet.

Suddenly a minivan with Illinois license plates turned into the parking area, and a married couple with 2 preteen daughters stepped out and started taking pictures of the beautiful view.  I couldn’t resist asking if they were from Chicago – – one of my daughters lives there and I will be going there to visit next week.

“No, we rented this car from New York,” the man replied.  “We are from Denmark.  We are doing a driving tour of the eastern United States.”  He explained that one of his daughters had hurt her ankle, and as a result they had to cancel many of their planned activities for the day.   They were limiting themselves to sightseeing from the car on this day, and had driven about 90 miles from western New Hampshire, extemporaneously wandering the scenic mountain roads.  He had many questions about what there was to see in this part of Maine, as well as questions about Maine culture, the people, the lifestyle, etc.

Well, I had nothing better to do until the library opened . . .

“We didn’t care for New York too much, to tell you the truth,” he confessed.  “Such a big city is not really our thing; we really prefer being in nature.”  He proceeded to tell me how surprised he was “that many of the natives we encountered there spoke English with very strong accents that we couldn’t understand.”  I had visions of him encountering chassidim who not only dress differently than the mainstream, but speak “Yinglish.”  But he said, “I’m talking about Hispanics and Chinese people.  I couldn’t believe it, but we met people who are Americans who could not even speak English!  That was very surprising to us – – I don’t understand how citizens can live in a country and not speak its language!  How is this possible?”

As we chatted,  I made several suggestions of places they could visit nearby that were off the beaten track and were known only to locals.  “You won’t find these suggestions in any tour book,” I said, “but if you love nature, you won’t want to miss them.”  Still, I realized that many of the places lacked signage and were accessed by hidden dirt or gravel roads, and he was unlikely to find them based on my directions alone.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said, “I will take you to some of these places if you’d like.  You can just follow me in your car.”

I guess I looked trustworthy, because they were game.

I had a great time taking them all over the place – – I probably used up $20 out-of-pocket in gas.  I would stop my car every so often and they’d pull up behind me.  “Look – here are some moose hoof-prints!” I’d point out.  Or, “Check carefully along the road – last year at this time I saw a bear cub foraging here for blueberries.”  And:  “This little library was a one-room schoolhouse from the 1800s until 1963.  Now it’s used as a library, and the author Stephen King, who lives nearby, helps to fund it.”  And:  “This area used to be a heavily forested valley, until 1983, when a severe storm with 100-mph winds created a blow-down. The entire forest was destroyed.  Then the beavers took over, and gradually the dammed area became the desolate bog you are looking at now.  Isn’t the power of nature amazing?”  I also took them to a hidden glen with a beautiful stream and small waterfalls.  “Salmon spawn here in November!” I gushed.  They were impressed!

Again and again, they thanked me profusely at each new stop for being able to see things and learn things that would otherwise not have been possible.  Together we ended up spending about 90 minutes touring the area.  We developed quite a rapport.  I discussed everything from logging and woodsmen, to moose and bear hunting, hiking, fishing, locals’ acceptance of strangers, politics, racism (the lack thereof), local education and jobs, cuisine, odd Maine laws – – you name it.   I said that the motto of Maine should be “live and let live,” since people are quite accepting of letting people do their own thing, as long as they don’t try to stuff their personal agenda down another’s throat.

“Oh, you mean everyone in Maine is very liberal!” the man exclaimed with glee.

“Well, I guess that depends on how you’d define ‘liberal,'” I replied.  “I mean, just about everyone here owns a gun,” I said.  The poor man’s eyes grew wide as saucers.  Then I realized:  who knows what they were thinking as I led them with my car through narrow mountain passes, through pocked and pitted gravel roads, through forest lanes so laden with foliage that you needed headlights to turn the shadows back into daylight, in places where no other people or buildings were in sight?  And now that I had said that everyone in rural Maine owns a gun, they probably felt like they were in a replay of “Deliverance,” only I was the one who could have been the bad guy!

Alas, it was now 6 p.m. and I still hadn’t made it to the library.  I recommended yet another isolated mountain road that would ultimately lead them back to their point of origin in New Hampshire, and after ensuring that their GPS recognized my suggested route, we wished one another well and said our goodbyes.

I don’t know what made me offer this impromptu goodwill tour to a family of complete strangers from a distant land.  I know they loved it – – they told me so, repeatedly, and remarked many times how fortunate I was to live in such a place.  But I confess, I do not know who enjoyed it more:  I had a wonderful time sharing the beauty and lore of my surroundings, and making my experiences a part of their experience, however vicariously or fleetingly.

Amazingly, after we parted, I realized that neither of us had told one another our names!

Only a week before I had read a wonderful book called “All Natural:  A Skeptic’s Quest to Discover If the Natural Approach to Diet, Childbirth, Healing, and the Environment Really Keeps Us Healthier and Happier” by Nathanael Johnson.  The concluding paragraph reads,

It wasn’t the Yosemite sunsets that had filled me with such hale energy as a child, it was watching those sunsets with my family, the four of us huddled together, windbreaker against windbreaker.  It wasn’t the close clarity of the stars, but Mom pointing out the Milky Way, that gave me the vertiginous feeling of falling into the vast heart of our galaxy. It was not only the place that mattered, but the fact that in that place the family was together and uninterrupted. I’d gone looking for Eden in the places where human fingerprints disappeared, but paradise was empty without the human touch.

Jon Krakauer, in his book “Into the Wild,” writes about Christopher McCandless,  the young American adventurer who (naively and tragically) planned to live alone with a minimum of supplies in the Alaskan wilderness.  His body was found dead of starvation only 4 months later, along with a meticulously kept journal.  In one of his last entries, trapped there as he lay dying in isolation, he scribbled:    “HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.”