For the past several months, as our new visuals editor Brian Feulner got himself settled here in Bangor, I’ve been making promises I wasn’t entirely certain I could keep.
Promises about critters. More precisely, promises about moose.
“You haven’t seen a Maine moose yet?” I’d ask. Brian would glumly shake his head.
“Don’t worry,” I’d say. “I can put you on moose whenever you’re ready.”
I know, I know. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I often go fishing and catch no fish. I hunt for deer and don’t find any sign of them. I might be a little short on street cred (or, in this case, dirt road cred).
No worries, I assured him (and, perhaps, myself). I can put you on some moose. No doubt about it. I am a Mainer, after all. I am proud of my state. And if I can help show a newcomer how cool Maine can be? Well, fill up the truck and sign me up.
On Monday, I got that chance.
Brian and I rolled up I-95 to interview Lisa Bates, a bear researcher who survived a helicopter crash last week. Our destination: Island Falls.
And after that, I figured we’d take a ride out Golden Road, where I could show my co-worker some of the sights … and a few moose.
A quick disclaimer: Before I actually got around to moose-wrangling, Brian and his wife had a nice visit with the moose that frequent the Department of Transportation lot in Shirley. Still, he was up for an adventure and the chance to spot some more rural moose. Country moose, you might say.
Brian and his wife, Natalie, are both outdoorsy, you see. He climbs rocks and cliffs. Sometimes, he ties his wife to a tree as she acts as a counterbalance during his rock-climbing efforts (she’s small, he’s big, and she needs some help to stop him from bruising his carcass). He hikes to the top of mountains so that he can go backcountry snowboarding. He has recently taken up fly fishing. And though he didn’t grow up here, he has told me that he views Maine’s abundant wild places as a vast playground, with surprises around every turn.
Brian and Natalie are not official Mainers — we all know how that works —but they’re the best kind of people “from away,” in my book: They’re happy to be here. They want to find out what our state is all about. And they plan to have a ball doing so.
So we headed into the woods, to an area he’d not yet had a chance to explore.
Finding moose is not rocket science, I told him. Dusk is a good time to find them. And as frequent travelers on one of the state’s fabled wilderness highways can tell you, the Golden Road is full of spots where moose like to feed.
One guide told me of such a place — a swampy, shallow, roadside deadwater — that is particularly “moosey.”
He calls it “The Salad Bar.”
But before the salad bar, we had to find a fish.
We reached Ambejejus Lake as the late afternoon sun began to drop. Not a puff of wind spoiled the mirrored surface of the lake. Upon our arrival, as if on cue, a good-sized fish jumped from the water several hundred yards from us.
Other fish rose, leaving tell-tale rise rings.
Brian quickly traded his camera for a fly rod and began casting from shore.
Before long, a small bass cooperated. Then another. Then a sunfish. Not the trophy salmon and brook trout that the region is known for, but exciting, nonetheless. Rising fish slurping dry flies are cool.
After stowing the gear, we continued. Out Golden Road. To The Salad Bar.
A moose awaited. No, make it two — a cow and calf — feeding on the far bank.
I’d like to take credit for my skills as a moose safari leader, but I can’t do that. These were, essentially, a pair of chamber of commerce moose. In my mind, I could hear a nearby moose-tamer, whispering, “We’ve got some more tourists, boys. Cue the moose!”
Farther out Golden Road, we saw another moose. And then two more. Easy-to-watch, roadside moose.
My master plan was working out just fine.
I taught Brian some Maine-y words. Stuff like “Chummy.” And “buddy.” And I made that classic Maine affirmation inhalation, the one that almost sounds like “Yuh.”
Brian tried that, too, and was quite proficient, though he squeaked a bit too much. (Don’t tell anyone, but I suspect he may have had asthma as a child).
Later, I showed Brian a couple of picnic grounds that are used by whitewater rafting companies and fly fishermen alike.
Brian rolled up his jeans, discarded his boots, and waded into the West Branch of the Penobscot.
“Nice look, Huckleberry,” I chided.
No fish cooperated on the West Branch, but we didn’t much care. Four loons paddled by. Caddis flies flitted about, landing briefly, then taking flight. They’re laying eggs, another guide had told me. I passed that information onto Brian, careful to attribute it appropriately, lest he start believing I actually know something about fly fishing.
Pulp trucks thundered by — that’s always a part of the Golden Road experience — and dust clouds enveloped us.
After a quick turn onto Telos Road, I showed him the cliffs of Ripogenus Gorge. Earlier in the day, we’d have likely seen scores of rafters picking their way through the whitewater. At this time of day, the river was empty, save for a lone fly angler, far downriver, making cast after cast into a setting sun.
Behind him, a perfect postcard backdrop, loomed Katahdin.
Later, just before spotting our sixth and seventh moose of the expedition, Brian turned his eyes toward Katahdin, entranced as so many before him have been.
“I’m coming back here,” he said. “I’ve got to climb that mountain.”
I nodded, understanding completely.