Somewhere in the Matane Wildlife Preserve, the moose are laughing.
Assuming there really are moose in the wildlife preserve.
Located about 30 miles from the town of Matane, Quebec, along the south shore of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the preserve purports to have one of the healthiest moose populations in the province with 3,000 spread over 500 miles.
For that reason, hundreds of tourists and lovers of all creatures great and small visit the preserve every summer to camp or stay in one of 16 lakeside chalets in hopes of spotting a moose.
Moose — you know, those large animals we in Maine spend most of our lives trying to avoid while driving down the road.
As such, it would be fair to ask why anyone from Maine would go to Matane just to see one.
Heaven knows I was asking myself that same question when a group of journalists I was traveling with recently in Quebec made an overnight stop at the preserve.
Now, I know I’m a bit moose-jaded since they are a fairly common sight in this part of Maine. But they are still an impressive animal, and besides, I’d never seen a Canadian moose before.
The hunt was on almost from the moment we arrived. The park guides packed us into a van and took us about a half-hour over some bumpy roads to the trailhead.
From there, it was a 20-minute hike to what was described as “prime moose viewing.”
Along the way we were cautioned to be silent in our approach so as not to startle any moose that might be sharing the path.
This had to be the guides’ first experience with journalists — ever try to keep seven of them quiet at once?
We managed to reach the designated spot in relative quiet, where next we were herded up and into a raised moose-stand affording us a sort of bird’s-eye view of a pond, a salt lick and what appeared to be a heavily traveled moose trail.
The wait was on as the air grew heavy with anticipation. It also grew heavy with mosquitoes, black flies and no-see-ums.
After 15 minutes the guide in charge — who happened to be about eight months pregnant — wandered off a ways and attempted her best moose imitation to call one in.
Now, I’m no Davey Crockett, but I did have to wonder at the notion of calling moose during the time of year when they are not in rut, mating or giving birth.
Exactly what was the guide offering?
Apparently nothing the moose were interested in. While we did hear one rather anemic snort from a distance, that was it as darkness fell and we stumbled our way back to the van and the ride back to camp.
Ah, but all was not lost!
We were promised a much better moose viewing chance the next morning — if we were willing to rise a bit early.
Heck, we’re journalists. Moreover, we’re travel journalists. Bring it on!
Turned out, early rollout was 2:30 a.m.
The reason for the pre-pre-dawn departure was to arrive at the best pond in the entire reserve for moose just as dawn broke.
Never mind there was a lovely pond right outside our cabins. Frankly, if I were a moose, you’d probably find me right there.
But good sports all, we were up and ready to go at 2:30, piling back into that van for an hour and half over some of the roughest, steepest and dustiest roads any of us had ever been on.
And did I mention the lack of coffee?
Yep, had to be the guide’s first time with journalists who, as a group, can get just a bit cranky being roused early and plunked in a van with no caffeine to cut the pain.
At the pond we were stuffed into two-person kayaks and pushed out into the rising mist on the pond.
Ever see two reporters try to paddle a kayak in the same direction? It ain’t pretty.
Somehow we remained in a group as we circled that pond several times, always on high moose alert.
Again, we heard that one anemic snort and that was it, leading me to believe someone some time ago had taped that snort and wired it to speakers spaced strategically around the reserve.
Two hours and no moose. The hour and a half drive back to the camp and no moose. The hour drive back to the main road and no moose.
To their credit, the guides looked crestfallen at having failed to produce even one of the thousands of moose wandering the reserve.
None of us held it against them. There is no denying the Matane Wildlife Preserve is home to a healthy moose population given the amount of tracks we spotted.
I did feel bad for my fellow journalists, only one of whom had ever seen a moose before.
As for me, when I got home there were three hanging out by my pond.
Perhaps I could open a reserve and give the folks at Matane a run for their money.