When moose go velvet

There's a smart dog up in the Maine woods -- away up in the Maine woods -- that goes by the name of Baker and won't chase a moose. Baker is part shepherd and part conjecture, and he belongs to Forest Ranger Ricci, who is stationed in fire-danger months at the outlet of Baker Lake. Baker, accordingly, works hard at being a good dog and takes care of just about everything at Baker Lake except for making the beds. All moose in that township (7R17) come under Baker's jurisdiction. Baker is named Baker because he belongs at Baker Lake.

The outlet of Baker Lake is pretty-much the start of the St. John River, and in particular the canoe parties that go down the stream. In former times Baker Lake was called Lake Woolastookwanguamoc, after the great flocks of woolastookwanguamocs that used to nest there, but nobody was ever known to name a dog Woolastookwanguamoc, so he is Baker. The Forestry Service keeps a tight camp at Baker Lake outlet, and since the neighborhood is by no means closely settled the Riccis and Baker spend a good deal of time by themselves. Ranger Ricci makes his patrols, keeps his weather records, checks his fire equipment, and watches water pass from Baker Lake down the river. It will be quite a river before it empties into the Bay of Fundy at St. John, New Brunswick, 450 miles away. Another of his duties is to attend the campsite maintained here by the Forestry Service. Since all of this country is well behind the road barriers of the timberland owners, most of the campers are canoeists, except that once a year Bill and I arrive for a sentimental fish-fry. Bill and I are privileged and come through the company chains on a pass.

It was 20 years ago, coming up, that Bill and I first came to Baker Lake. His daughter had married my son, and we felt we should get to know each other. We pitched a tent, cooked over an open fire, explored the region, and gave the ravenous north country trout every possible opportunity. Since that first year, Bill and I have enjoyed the sophistication of a roofed company camp -- all that's left of an old-time lumbering operation -- but we ride some 30 miles or so every summer to recapture the original spirit of Baker Lake. We generally order the brook trouts a la pork fat and cornmeal from the extensive menu, the withits being, usually, hot biscuits, hash browns, and peach shortcake. This past ''Grandfathers' Retreat'' we arrived to make the acquaintance of Baker and his assistants, Ranger and Jean Ricci.

We had our salt pork nicely diced and coming along fine in the pan, allowing expertly for the necessity of a slow process for brookies, when the Riccis appeared to have us sign the register. The Forestry Service likes to know who passes and why. It was at this moment that a prominent moose appeared up the lake shore to our right. He was approximately the size of the Harvard Stadium, but looked bigger because his July horns were in the ''velvet.'' Later, as cold weather comes, antlers harden and become smaller, but a gentleman moose in mid-summer often lowers his head for the moon to pass. This moose paid no attention to much of anything, and came along dipping into the drink and chomping lily stems. Bill, trying out pork, looked up and said, ''There's a moose!''

There is probably nothing in nature that can readily be mistaken for a moose, so we congratulated William on his perception, and Mrs. Ricci looked at her wristwatch and said, ''He's late today.''

''Much?'' I asked.

''About twenty minutes.''

The moose fed on down by our campsite, moved slowly across the outlet stream, and worked on up the left-hand shore, to pass from sight finally behind a point. Mrs. Ricci assured us the same moose made this passage each day, about noon, and regularly gave poor Baker a rough time. Sure enough, we noticed now that Baker was crouched, cowering and a-tremble, behind a clump of weeds on the beach, staring after said moose, but seemingly in an effort to conceal himself. We could see that Baker was respectfully scairt.

Seems as a pup, when he first came to Baker Lake, Baker saw his first moose and in accepted dog style took off and gave hot pursuit. The Riccis, flagrante delicto, whooped and called, and Baker heeded not. Then the moose lifted his head, lowered it again, and came at Baker. Baker changed his mind and made for camp, entering through the screen door before it was opened for him, and stayed under a bed for three days. Since which time he has not chased a single moose, and if you call ''Moose!'' at him he goes into a tizzy.

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