The Moose Whisperer

As I drove by, I caught a glimpse from the very far edge of my periphery.  My early morning brain was slow to process what I had just seen, but eventually the fog cleared and I realized  that I had to turn around and drive back.  “Moose don’t trip”, I thought. “ Maybe someone is poaching and  I didn’t hear the shot”. As I got closer, I could see the calf lying on her back with her front leg and hoof held straight up.  Mom was just a few yards away helpless to do anything and warily standing watch.

Along that stretch of NH RT.115, the dept. of transportation has installed a continuous fence.  It is a wide mesh loosely strung between aluminum posts and is about 40” tall. Its only purpose is to keep  errant moose from wandering into the roadway which they continue to do at an alarming rate in spite of the fence.

It was early April, and the snared calf was probably only a  few days or a week old.  Mom had made it over the fence, but the youngster  had failed to clear it.  One of her front hooves had gone through the very top mesh of the fence and as she went over it twisted and ensnared her.   Her predicament was hopeless.   It was only a matter of time before the coyotes came upon her…  unless I helped. 

I slipped and slid on the remnants of winter as I climbed the slope. I could see the warm steam jetting from Mom’s nostrils.  In the cold morning air, those  jets of steam came out straight and forcefully.  She was agitated and breathing heavily.  I looked at the distance to her and the distance to my car and kept a running tabulation of the vectors as I approached baby Bullwinkle.  Not too long before, I had watched a Marty Stouffer  documentary in which a cow moose stomped an elderly man to death at an ATM in Alaska.  That  footage ran foremost in my consciousness  as I sized up the  disastrous possibilities…  A recent motorcycle accident  had left me hobbled .  Running was not an option, although I suppose if that cow started chasing me I might even  flap my arms and fly if I was scared enough!

I think she sensed that I meant no harm.  Even  so, as I worked to free her calf, I kept one eye on her and one  on the snared hoof.  If she suddenly felt threatened, I needed every second  to roll down the bank and get away.  The problem was that I needed another hand.   The calf kept a constant tension on the wire mesh which meant that I needed two hands to unwind the wire and another hand to push her hoof through.  It just wasn’t working. 

After a few moments  it became apparent that I needed to get the calf to relax so that her hoof would just fall out  as I spread the wires.  I started speaking in soft tones to the her, but loud enough so Mom could hear me, and as I spoke. I began to gently massage the moose’s calf with long gentle strokes down the length of her leg.  “it’s OK, I’m not going to hurt you,“ I said softly. “I just want to help… I’ll have you outta here in no time, ya’ just gotta relax…”   I repeated the same mantra a few times, and it worked!  Unexpectedly, she was quite free as her hoof fell away from the fence.

It took a moment for her to realize that she was free.  When she did, she stood on her wobbly  new legs  and trotted clumsily to her waiting mother.  Together they wandered into the woods making moosy sounds.

 In a short while the uniqueness of the entire experience  dawned on me.  I was one of a  very small group of people who had ever  petted a moose.  Over the years I have seen many, eaten a few and had some very close calls, but this was different.  I had looked into those yellow eyes and had seen the fear.  She had looked into my eyes and had seen the same thing!  We had shared something special.  Both baby and mom had been forced by desperation to put their instincts aside  to allow me to help.  Every now and then, we have an experience that transcends our  established perceptions and drops us smack dab in the middle of a different world. However short that experience might be, it is guaranteed to be uplifting, enlightening,, and soul satisfying.  The natural world and man’s world sometimes intersect in unusual  and mutually beneficial ways.  It’s nice to be in the right place at the right time when it happens.