Down the Road a Piece
Critters big and small
Maine is a great place to see wildlife. Like, for example, the day I drove my bus along Acadia National Park’s Park Loop Road and saw a cow moose crossing in front of me.
Or last week, when I relaxed in an ocean-front gazebo and watched chipmunks crossing around the gazebo to the rocky side of a gully, crossing under the gazebo headed for those rocks, and through the gazebo headed for the rocks but pausing to admire my feet.
Almost every day I see deer in Bar Harbor, generally a mom crossing the road then stopping to wait for one or two skippers to cross the road behind her. I haven’t decided if these deer have trained themselves and their young ‘uns to watch for traffic before crossing or if they just cross and hope for the best.
This year I’m seeing many porcupines, most dead from having been hit by vehicles. The turkeys I see are too smart, despite their pea-sized brains, to get hit. They do seem to look and listen before crossing. Unless there’s a big enough flock. Then they sort of take over the road.
The moose I saw crossing the Park Loop Road was a cow. Well, not the kind of cow the next-run bus passenger from New Jersey thought I meant as I told her about the cow moose. The cow moose knew just where she was headed, into the woods on the other side of the road. (Bringing up the age-old question that I’ve never heard asked: why does a moose cross the road?)
The passenger seemed confused enough that I glanced back at her in the mirror. Suddenly, the light dawned -- although it was late afternoon, and she said, “Oh, a cow moose! I thought you meant a cow like we have in New Jersey.”
Cows in New Jersey? I thought New Jersey just had highways, lots of them, all high-speed. But I guess Jersey cows had to come from somewhere. Well, maybe not New Jersey. The word “New” makes me believe there is an old Jersey in the old country, probably Britain.*
Anyway, I explained that this cow was big and brown and as wild as wild critters become in Acadia National Park.**
The most recent moose -- a maybe moose -- was right off Route 3 in a field behind a stand of trees. I didn’t get a good look, as it is not a recommended practice to study a maybe moose in a field behind a stand of trees while steering your bus along that winding section of the busy highway. She, I think, my having seen no antlers or stubs, was a cow calf. Not the kind of cow calf they have in New Jersey, but the kind that appear whenever they feel like it...the Maine kind. She was about the size of a full-grown deer, but she was very dark.
Yes, she was a she. You can tell by the number of times I wrote “she” in the paragraph above. Besides, I’ve never seen a deer that dark.
Porcupines? Although I love to watch them galloping through the woods at a frantic waddle, the recent bunch I’ve seen have all been dead. You can tell because they’re not waddling, and they’re pretty...well, pretty messed up.
The turkeys? Too many to describe. Yesterday I watched a mother turkey herd her ten-inch-long babies, who looked exactly like scaled-down versions of Mom, away from the road. The ones in our yard puzzle me. They appear to be eating from our lawn. Eating what? Are there that many bugs in our lawn in autumn? Have they now started to eat grass? I asked Tom, our big black cat, who was quietly observing them while waiting for one of them to turn into a chipmunk. He didn’t know either. He just knew they weren’t chipmunks.
Skunks. Ah yes, those wandering critters such as the one that wanders past our house occasionally. We don’t see him at night nor hear him. You know how we know he’s wandering past.
The ones along the road are all through wandering. But their aroma lingers a long time in the car or bus. Too long. And it’s hard keeping the window open these cool mornings.
When we lived in Swanville a hundred years ago or so, a skunk wandered into our basement in search of who knows what. We didn’t keep skunk snacks in the basement. But I put my noggin to work and persuaded the polecat to leave home -- ours. I lay a long plank down the bulkhead steps and put little bits of food along it. The cooperative critter followed the food trail and headed outdoors.
Birds are all over our neck of this woods and near the ocean. It’s the large birds I notice, such as the red-tailed hawk that sat up in a tree at the edge of our yard for awhile, eyeballing our kitties as a possibly delicious snack. Fortunately for said kitties, he gave up and found another tree in which to sit. (How do I know he was a he? He was much more colorful than a she would have been. Yup, just opposite from human he’s and she’s.)
I see eagles on a regular basis from the driver’s seat of my bus. I used to call passengers’ attention to them, but I don’t bother now. The passengers never seemed to see them. Besides, the passengers may have been suffering under the illusion that I, their skillful driver, was watching the road, not an eagle soaring overhead.
But my favorite Maine critters remain the moose. I frequently tell those who still will listen about the one I met one Sunday afternoon while following a survey line at the edge of the Appalachian Trail corridor west of Andover, which is west of nearly everywhere else in Maine. I had seen a big pine blowdown and its ten-foot-diameter stump. I noticed it, because a big moose head was peering at me from one edge of the upended stump.
Big Dumb Guy came out and walked to within a dozen feet of where I had moved to hide behind another large pine. He -- the moose, not the pine -- was looking straight at where I was trying to hide.
Not knowing what else to do, I tried to take his moosey mind off me by saying, “Why don’t you go home and get your Sunday dinner.”
“I am home,” he replied, “Why don’t you go home and get yours.”
“I would but you’re right in my way,” I said, hoping that would encourage him to back up a bit.
(Most people express what could be possible disbelief, when I tell them what Bullwinkle said to me. That’s their problem. I just hope they are never in the situation, where they have to talk to moose to show them how friendly they -- the humans -- are.)
Eventually, I got up enough courage to come out from behind my tree, circle well away from Big Dumb Guy and head uphill through the woods. When I felt I was far enough away, I circled back down to the survey line.
A time later, after I had reached the summit of the little mountain and was heading back down the AT, I came across two chipmunks in the trail.
All three of us jumped about that many feet.
I hoped Bullwinkle enjoyed his Sunday dinner. (A woman did ask me if moose eat hikers. Realizing she was a suburban slicker and didn’t understand moose dieting, I explained that it would be mosquitoes that eat hikers.)
I’ve gotten so moose don’t terrify me any more. That change may have occurred once, when I was walking along a woods road and rounding a curve, when I came upon a mama moose and her little angel about 100 feet away. I stared at them, knowing I couldn’t outrun Mama if she gave chase but having no other plan of escape in mind. But she just looked warningly*** at me, as I tip toed onto a side trail I was seeking and which was right there where I needed it. (Tip for moose watches, who are viewing them unexpectedly: always look for a nearby side trail, as those trees are so darn hard to climb.)
Well, there was that one bull, who swam across Surplus Pond straight toward me. Was I scared? You bet, and I turned and legged it up the steep AT, hoping this big guy wouldn’t bother following me.
He didn’t. And I’ll never know if that was a moose laugh I heard behind me, or an off-tune loon.
One big dumb critter embarrassed me, because, well, because it was a huge turtle...I’m not sure how huge as I look back on it, but I know it was nearly as huge as I remember it. I had no place to go except back down the trail, which I wasn’t about to do. After all, it’s hard to tell a tale in which I ran away from a huge, huger than that, turtle.
I tiptoed around the big dumb thing, hoping it wouldn’t charge.
*I’m too lazy to ask my computer if there is a Jersey in Britain. Maybe I can ask my daughter, who spent some time in Britain.
**Yes, there are moose in Acadia. Years ago I was told about a dozen were there. Now I have no idea how many reside in Acadia National Park. Enough that they keep being seen by people, either resident people or tourist types.
***After teaching English for too long and writing as a journalist for almost as long, I’m still not sure that “warningly” is a real word. Even in Maine.
Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at email@example.com.
Milton M. Gross Copyright 2013