I saw my very first moose this week: an event I've been waiting for all my life. I've been in moose country often enough, and seen their tracks even down in the southern Berkshires where they are slowly but steadily expanding their range, but never before had my path crossed theirs. On Monday, riding in the backseat through Crawford Notch in New Hampshire's White Mountains, my eyes registered a looming form by the roadside that wonderously materialized into a cow moose and two calves calmly browsing in the heat of the evening.
The first thing that registered was not its impressive size - six feet at the shoulder - but the the deep dark color of the animal. Its coat was a rich mahogany brown and its face a lighter color, and I thought at first it might be a horse. Our driver did not even pause - a colleague for whom moose had lost their allure- but the two of us in the back stared in dawning amazement at this extraordinary creature and its rust colored little ones nearby. Twins are the norm for moose, born in May or June, and these two made me think more of bison calves because of their size and coloration than spindly-legged fawns.
There are at least 6,500 moose in New Hampshire. In pre-European settlement times they were more common here than white-tailed deer. They are heavy browsers and can consume course woody material in large quantities. They may play an important role in keeping some early successional wetlands open and dominated by grasses and sedges instead of shrubs and saplings. They find the sides of roads attractive for the road salts that accumulate there, and New Hampshire experiences as many as 200 moose vehicle collisions every year.
There were, I noticed, several cars parked opposite the moose as we drove passed, and someone with a camera was walking across the road to get a closer shot. Given that a cow moose is fully capable of killing wolves and grizzly bears in defense of her young, this was not a good choice, but we did not linger to see the outcome. I could have stayed and watched for hours but time and my colleague at the wheel waited for neither man nor moose, and they slipped by and vanished from view as we headed toward the crest of the notch.
While hiking down a logging road in British Columbia, I have seen grizzly bears swimming across an inlet of the sea. I have surprised a sleeping elephant -far too close to each other for our respective comforts - and seen it rise to an impossible height faster than I could have thought possible and flee in one direction while I retreated in the other. I have seen giraffes peering over the tops of Acacias as my old landrover rattled by. But on Monday in the White Mountains I saw a moose and her babies, and those few moments were as awesome and memorable as any of the exquisite glimpses and fleeting encounters I have had with some of the world's great creatures.