Henry and the moose

Photo courtesy of Greg Westrich
Posted Sept. 16, 2011, at 3:44 p.m.

As dark clouds moved north of us, dropping rain on the far side of the North Traveler in Baxter State Park, I made my son, Henry, and myself an early dinner. While we ate, another storm moved in and soaked campers at Russell Pond.

Eventually, a storm passed over us; the sky darkened as the first drops fell. It rained gently for several minutes, never reaching the ground through the heavy canopy of birch and maple. Then it began raining harder turning the ground muddy in front of the lean-to.

Even before it stopped raining, Henry ran out to Upper South Branch Pond to have a look. I followed, getting wet from the last of the rain and drops falling from the trees.

Standing on the beach it seemed much later than 6 p.m. The sky was still dusklike; a cool breeze ruffled the slate-colored pond and knocked the water noisily out of the trees. Amid this background of falling water, Henry was convinced he heard something moving in the alders just up the shore from us. I assured him that it was just the woods rearranging itself after the storm. Pointing at a moose walking on the beach, Henry disagreed.

It was a young bull; its fur darkest on the bristle of its mane and lightest on its forehead and tail. It looked toward us with unseeing eyes, then ambled out into the shallows and began loudly eating reeds. Henry inched closer along the shore; I headed back for the camera in a cloud of biting insects.

Henry stood watching the moose, swatting at the bugs on his legs and around his head. All this activity led the moose to look up periodically and peer at Henry, who waved. Sometimes he waved his right hand, a grin on his face. Other times he waved both hands above his head, imitating a tree swaying in a breeze, as he explained it later to me. The moose continued to eat; Henry came and got the camera from me. Once back to within 20 feet of the animal, he began taking close-ups: moose with its nose underwater; moose looking at the camera, water dripping off its chin; moose turning to look out across the pond. Luckily, I’d put a new card in the camera.

When the moose began to move to a patch of reeds on the other side of me, Henry followed. When they were only about 10 feet apart, the moose suddenly realized Henry was there.

Startled, it splashed water up onto the shore, turning in a blur of water and limbs. After moving 20 or 30 feet out into the pond, it went back to eating.

I called Henry to me, and we went back up to the lean-to as the rain began again. It rained hard for close to an hour. When it stopped, I made us a second dinner while Henry went out to check on the moose. It was gone. Henry walked back and forth on the beach, looking into the alders. The moose must have moved back into the beaver flowage or alder-choked streams from which it had emerged.

The next morning, I woke to light rain and the moose standing next to our fire ring watching me. I tried to wake Henry without startling the moose, but he slept on, and the moose ambled on its way down the muddy path to the pond and disappeared.

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