Respect the Moose Who Comes to Call

IT seems we have a new environmental game in Maine this summer - counting moose. There is a number to call if you spy one, and charts will be kept. Presumably this is for the tourists, who flock to Maine to look at our moose and don't always find one.

I'm sure our moose will appreciate this new interest in their whereabouts and will cooperate fully. For some years now their feelings have been abused by the way we shoot them.

Well, the lordly and self-evident creatures have become merely a prize in a revenue-raising hunting lottery, and you can imagine how that makes them feel! However, a moose is largely obvious if you come upon one, and not likely to be mistaken for a red-eyed vireo or the common witch hazel. But when you've seen one moose, you've seen 'em all, you might say, and you can be mistaken about that.

As a long-time viewer and counter of Maine moose, I can aver as an expert that you can return from a saunter in the wilderness without knowing if you saw 15 moose or if you saw one moose 15 times.

Up at Thoreau's old St. John Lake, where Bill and I roam with the moose for a week every July, we had for three years running a handsome old gentleman moose that would come every evening in the twilight to watch Bill and me lave the supper tableware. He was resident in the swamp abaft our camp, and we noticed his "game trail" upon arrival. He would walk about during the night to make sure all was well.

Our first evening he found a light in our window (we have propane lamps) and approached to investigate. Bill washes, so as I was wiping a plate I heard him say, "I believe we have a visitor!"

Thinking perhaps he had heard a vehicle entering our access, I continued to wipe, but noticed that Bill was drawn together in a stance of total preoccupation. He was staring out the window. Now I saw - Bill and the moose were eyeball to eyeball viewing each other, the moose resting his dewlap on the windowsill. After that we called our moose friend Charlie and he came every evening. But after three years he did not.

Back in the 1930s and earlier, the vast moose on our Great Seal of the State of Maine had been reduced by the sporty hunters until just a tax-gatherer's handful remained in our wilds. Much, much too late our legislators rallied to enact a perpetual closed season - never again would a Maine moose be nimrodded.

This lasted until our herd had recovered and multiplied, and when the moose was once again offered in sport a goodly number of creatures regarded it as a wanton breach of faith.

The lottery was again in vogue, and somebody with a warped intellect had a brilliant idea. Why not sell tickets and a winner could shoot a moose?

This prevails today and explains why Charlie doesn't come to count Bill and me any more.

Special licenses for moose are sold each year, but such licenses do not give the holders the right to go moose hunting. No, indeed. First, there has to be a "drawing." Those whose numbers are drawn may participate, but if your number is not drawn you don't get your money back and you don't get a moose. This helps with the budget shortfalls, and makes all the moose proud to be Americans.

When the caribou ceased to flourish in Maine, the ancient Indian sage explained, "Him 'fraid of stumps." It was as simple as that. Lumbering had depleted the food that sustained a caribou herd, and the animals either expired or went to Canada.

The moose is a legacy from a departed age, and will some day leave us for his own reasons. As with so many other beasts and birds and fish, everything has a time and a season. We must turn out and count the moose while there is yet time.

By the way - Bill and I have noticed that the moose we see don't always see us. They don't run like a deer. They seem myopic, and like to come closer to be sure if we're hunters or real people.

That's why Charlie was right up in Bill's eyes. And it explains nicely why Charlie kept on counting folks after the raffle season opened.

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