One thing that readers frequently ask is whether our family has finally seen a moose. It’s become an almost yearly installment of this column when I tell you about our family’s quest to find a proper moose. By “proper” I mean one that is more than eight-times my size and is bigger than any other animal I’ve ever seen in my life. I want it to take my breath away. I want to be so startled that I can’t get my phone out to take a picture. I want to be in awe.
So, I won’t be satisfied with a baby or adolescent moose, and in fact, I did see a young one running down the road in Orono once. But here’s how that encounter went:
Me: “Is that a baby deer? A calf? What is that thing?”
Others in the car: “That’s just a young moose.”
Me: “No, that can’t be a moose. It’s so little.”
Others in the car: “That is definitely a baby moose.”
My dreams were crushed. So I don’t count that sighting. I have not seen a moose until I have encountered the father of all moose and dropped and shattered my phone on the pavement from the excitement.
Am I building this up too much?
Understand that my not seeing a moose is not from a lack of trying. Helpful readers have sent me tips about where to go to definitely see a moose. “They are more populous than people in [insert name of town or stretch of road],” they say, and I chase down those locations and find nothing.
In the fall, our family traveled to Quebec and we specifically travelled through Jackman because people assured me that no one drives through Jackman and doesn’t see a moose. No one except the Smileys. We crept past every creek, lake and boggy spot that looked primed for moose, and we saw nothing.
But I remained hopeful that we would be luckier on our way back home from Quebec. So imagine my excitement when I realized that we were passing through Jackman again on the opening day of moose hunting season.
“This is it,” I told my family as we approached the town line. “This is the day we see a big moose.”
And we did see one. We saw several, actually. But they were all strung up by their back legs and bleeding a river across the pavement of the local gas station where the whole town had come out to see the day’s harvest.
I did not count these dead moose as sightings either because in my imagination, the first moose I see will be coming out of a grey fog and looking me in the eye, as if he’s saying, “I’m the moose you’ve been searching for.”
Again, am I’m building this up too much?
But I stood there at the gas station anyway and interrogated hunters about the best places to see moose.
“It’s opening day for moose season,” one of them told me. “Any moose that were alongside the road are headed here to the game pole now.”
“You should go up to Millinocket and Baxter State Park,” one of them said. “Lots of moose up there.”
In fact, we’ve been to Sandy Stream Pond many times because I’m told that no one goes there and leaves without a picture of a moose. No one except the Smileys. One time, after we woke up at 3:30 a.m., drove to Baxter State Park, and arrived at Sandy Stream Pond by 5 a.m., we were told that we had “just missed” two giant bull moose drinking from the lake. My middle son stepped in moose droppings on the way back to the ranger station, so I know that moose do in fact exist, even if it feels like this is some elaborate joke that state of Maine is playing on me.
We returned to Sandy Stream Pond last month and left one variable (my very loud youngest child) behind. A friend who is a game warden mentioned that being quiet is sometimes the trick to seeing moose in the wild. I was sure this time, with only quiet adults along for the ride, we would see a bull moose.
We saw nothing except the spectacular view of Mt. Katahdin.
This August marks 9 years since our family relocated from Florida to Maine, 9 years since I drove up I-95 and squealed with both fear and excitement when I saw the big yellow signs cautioning drivers about moose. I am beginning to lose faith that we will ever see one. Who lives in Maine for 9 years and doesn’t see a living moose on the side of the road?
The Smileys do, that’s who.
But we will try again next year.