Story and Photos by Jean Kepler Ross
“Brake for Moose - it could save your life” - the road sign in Maine promised. My cousin Julie and I toured New England in the Fall and we were excited at the prospect of viewing moose. Unfortunately, they were proving to be elusive.
The road signs were encouraging: “Moose - next 3,000 feet,” “Moose next 4,000 feet,” and “Moose - next 9 miles.” Finally, we saw a moose: a metal moose sculpture hiding in the grove of trees next to a scenic waterfall in Rumford, Maine. I began quizzing the locals to find out how we could maximize our chances of seeing the actual animal.
Innkeepers in Bethel, Maine, reported once sighting a moose in their backyard. It was looking in their window at their son, who was watching television. So we gazed endlessly through our hotel window, but no luck. We saw a billboard in Bethel promoting a three-hour guided tour to search for moose at dawn. We were very motivated, and we were sure a guide would help us in our quest, but we wanted to do it without losing sleep and turning into zombies.
As time passed, we started to doubt the signs. “Moose Crossing - 2 Miles” - if only. We spotted a flock of wild turkeys and a road-killed red fox and got a whiff of a skunk.
Our waitress at a cafe in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, told us, “You never know where or when you’ll see one. They’re not afraid of cars. If you see one on the road, stay back as far as you can to watch it; if you go close, they might charge you.” She told us that one had recently appeared right in front of her in the woods while she was riding a four-wheeler on trails. She added that she’s seen moose many times. This village is near Moose River, and the name made us hopeful, but although we looked everywhere, we didn’t see one.
We stopped by Goodrich’s Maple Farm near Marshfield, Vermont, and asked the woman selling maple syrup about moose. She told us, “Moose are coming out of the mountains because hunters are moving through the woods. If you see moose with antlers, stay clear - it’s rutting season and they can get testy.” She added, “Moose move faster than we do, even though they look like they’re ambling.” We asked her what we could do to improve our moose-spotting chances, and she smiled and said, “Well, you need some good luck.”
We asked an art gallery owner in Grafton, Vermont, if she had seen moose. “Not yet this year,” she replied. “There are so many woods they don’t need to come down near the road.” She tried to cheer us up by reporting that the week before, her husband had spotted a bear walking right in front of his car across the road we had just traveled. We sighed. Yes, bear would be great, but we were holding out for moose.
The most promising sign we saw during our trip warned, “Watch for Moose - High Hit Area - 100s of Collisions.” We passed the sign at dusk, which we figured would be prime time for moose to be out foraging for food. We slowed down to a crawl, craned our necks and were very vigilant, but all we saw were skid marks on the highway. Obviously, there had been many close moose encounters in the area, but not on our watch. We drove on, sorely disappointed.
We began to think of New England moose as mythical creatures, kind of like unicorns. I had once spotted a mother moose and her calf munching contentedly in the woods on the eastern edge of Yellowstone National Park. I also got to see a bull moose at dusk years ago, up to his shoulders in a pond and eating water plants, on the outskirts of Kalispell, Montana. But not even a trace in New England.
We wound our way through scenic villages with various styles of church steeples, stone walls straight out of Robert Frost’s poems, and evocative ancient cemeteries with faded tombstone markings. New England fulfilled all of our expectations about beauty and friendly people, but we would be disappointed if we didn’t spot a single moose.
We started photographing all the moose statues. I conducted one last interview with our innkeeper in Keene, New Hampshire. When asked if he had grown up there, he said, “Yes.” When asked if he had ever seen a moose, he answered, “No, except for a dead one along the road that had been hit.” Well....we’d rather not see any moose than find one that had become road kill.
You’re probably wondering by now if we ever got to see a moose on our trip. The answer is no, but the possibility of sighting one added fun and anticipation to our adventures. We know they’re out there in the woods doing what moose do and we have not given up the quest. We plan to go back and search again. Next time, we’ll probably bite the sleep bullet and go into the woods at dawn with a guide. If we go from Bethel, maybe we’ll search at nearby Mooselookmeguntic Lake off the Appalacian Trail - the name is promising.
Meanwhile, I’ve got my moose wind catcher from Maine and an old sugaring pail from Vermont that is decorated with a hand-painted moose. Every time I look at them it will keep the quest alive!
Jean Kepler Ross is an award winning freelance writer/photographer based in Santa Fe, NM. She was editor of GuestLife New Mexico for four years and her work has appeared in New Mexico Magazine, Glamour, Home & Away, Los Angeles Times, Santa Fe Visitors Guide, San Francisco Examiner, ASU Travel Guide, The Wall Street Journal and many other publications.