January 11, 2018
By Linda McElroy
Meeting a Moose at Midnight
This WildAware article is submitted by Acton resident, Linda McElroy. Linda founded the Acton Land Stewardship Committee in the mid-1990s, and the Trail Through Time in the mid-2000s. The TTT, a Community Preservation Act project, highlights local Native American and Colonial landscape artifacts. Please visit http://www.actontrails.org/trail-through-time/ for more information.
I arrived at my Maine cabin-in-the-woods very late one August evening. Following my routine upon-arrival ritual, I first took the path down to the brook to listen to its voice and say “hello” to the creatures who live there. Then, I jogged along the short path to the pond, lantern in hand, carefully flashing its light from side to side so as not to startle anyone browsing in my woods.
Bursting out of the woods into the clearing beside the pond, I immediately sensed a strong rank odor. “I don’t remember the Beavers being that smelly”, I thought to myself. Scrambling up the embankment beside the dam, I scanned the entire area with the lantern. All was still. But I did notice that there seemed to be a rather long smooth opaque panel where brushy vegetation had always grown. “Better check that out”, I thought.
I moved a few steps closer, and trained the light on one side of the opaque panel, still puzzling why there was no definition of leaves and woody structure. Gradually, I swept the light along this panel to its other side. Toward the end of this scan, an extremely large eye was calmly studying me. “Moose!” my mind screamed, and my feet took off before I remembered that was not the thing to do.
This cow moose had had twins that year. I had observed them from my kayak at the marshy end of the pond, where she fed on the rich underwater grasses almost constantly, to provide enough milk for the two buff-colored calves, out of sight among the reed clumps. She would dip her entire horse-sized head–except for the ears–into the murky water for a few moments, then come up for air and a vigilant look around, while buckets of water poured off her head and shoulders. Thus, I had not expected to see her at my end of the pond.
At maturity, a cow moose weighs between 500 and 700 pounds, (bulls up to 1,000 pounds), may stand 6 feet at the shoulders, and first gives birth at three years of age. The largest member of the deer family, moose range throughout much of North America. They were abundant in Massachusetts until European settlers cut the forests for agriculture. But since the 1980s, a few are seen again in Eastern Massachusetts, as hunting restrictions have caused the population to burgeon.
Moose are browsers, and prefer wetland habitats, though they will keep mainly to forested areas. Calves born in mid-May remain with their mothers for about a year, when they are driven away as the cow prepares to give birth again. With birth weights of about 20 pounds, they can grow to nearly 300 pounds by the fall. Bulls, much larger, are also much darker than cows, who may be light-bodied.
A moose’s size and strength prevent predation from other animals, but human hunters, vehicles, and, more recently, ticks, claim quite a number of lives. Ticks do not transmit the diseases they carry to moose, as is also true with deer, but the sheer number of ticks now everywhere in Northern New England may weaken them through blood loss. An animal thus weakened may be taken by a bear.
In my hasty flight, I stumbled, fell, lost the lantern, and arrived at the cabin safely but completely out of breath. A better tactic, should you meet a moose, is to back away slowly and steadily without making eye contact. Never get between a cow and her young. Once a moose is aware of your presence, usually it will just majestically blend into the forest, and be gone.
Paula Goodwin is a member of the Acton Conservation Commission who introduced WildAware with Acton Natural Resource Assistant Bettina Abe. WildAware is a program sponsored by the Town of Acton Natural Resources Department that began in September, 2015. The purpose of WildAware is to educate the community about the existence and habits of wild creatures, and the goal is increased community awareness of shared habitats. For information, call 978-929-6634 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.