Got Moose?


Got Moose?

My father didn’t have a job where he had regular vacation time until he was hired at one of our local paper mills.  I know that my mother appreciated the good and regular paychecks, and although he never actually said so, if I would have ever been in a situation where I could have pressed him for an answer, which of course I would never have done, I strongly suspect it was the opportunity to take paid vacations that was my father’s favorite part about working for ‘the mill’.

I’m not sure exactly when my father became a dedicated tent camper; it happened long before I came along.  I’m pretty sure camping became his favorite pastime by the time my three oldest brothers joined the Boy Scouts.  My father volunteered to be a leader. 

My own earliest recollections of family camping was of gear purchased from the scouts when the troop upgraded.  My father and any of my oldest brothers who happened to be available, shared an army-style canvas tent that had no floor and no mosquito screens.  My two sisters shared a canvas umbrella tent, which got its name for the fact that the center pole stood in the middle and there were four poles that held up a corner of the roof and worked on a sliding ring much like the way that a rain umbrella functioned.  Despite weighing about a thousand pounds, the umbrella tent had both flooring and screen windows.  My mother, my brother Mike and I shared an old bed mattress laid down in the back of our 1956 Chev station wagon.  If nothing else, camping was cozy!

Eventually we upgraded.  First, when the three oldest boys were already in the military service, my father purchased a brand-new Coleman cabin tent that all six of us could fit in, thanks to a bunkbed cot for Mike and I.  Then, the summer between 5th and 6th grade my father purchased a pop-up camper.  My sisters had gotten married, so my parents shared the pull-out bed on one side and Mike and I shared the other side.  The trailer was much more comfortable, but the greatest advantage that it offered was increased mobility.  My parents took advantage by planning a two-week camping trip driving around Lake Superior. 

As we looked at maps and planned the route my mother shared that what she wanted from the trip more than anything else was to see a moose.  She didn’t explain why, she just matter-of-factly stated, “I want to see a moose.”  I can’t say that she managed to instill any burning moose-sighting desire in me, but I was certainly open to the experience.

On our second day in Canada, we missed a moose by minutes.  Even though it’s been decades, I am fairly certain that the campground we pulled into after that day’s drive was called White Lake.  The campsite next to the beach was open, so my father backed our camper in there.  As we piled out of the car and began setting up camp, it was clear that there was some kind of commotion at the beach.  We all walked over to see what had happened.  A lady looked at my mother and blurted out, “You just missed the moose; he just ran right through here and up into the woods.”  And there they were – the moose’s tracks were clear as day headed across the beach.

The whole first week went by without any more moose excitement.  My father noticed a billboard advertising a little park with a zoo, and decided to pull in.  The little zoo was nice, with lots of local wild animals.  Nowadays you would call it a conspiracy theory, because as we neared the moose exhibit we noticed two things: an empty fenced-in area, and a sign apologizing that the moose had died the week before.  Maybe if we knew that he had taken ill, we could have come sooner.  My mother drove the point home as she looked at the whitetail deer that looked up at us quite innocently. She sighed deeply and said, “We have driven a thousand miles to see a Wisconsin whitetail!”  It wasn’t the deer’s fault – at least I don’t think it was.

Our last and best chance came the final two days of our time in Canada. We camped in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park on the Sibley Peninsula, along Lake Superior’s western shores.  I remember listening to the ranger explain that if we wanted to see moose that we should visit a particular overlook of a large marshy area that was frequented by the big animals.  He circled two other likely spots on our map as well for back-ups. 

After supper, we jumped in the car and headed for the wildlife viewing platform.  I remember the views being large and my father pointing out all of the landmarks.  What he didn’t point out was a moose, because they were a no-show that evening.  The whole next day we explored many trails and overlooks.  I remember that we picked enough wild blueberries to fill up one of our aluminum cooking pots at one overlook.  And it was also there that we discovered that my brother Mike was afraid of heights.  At first, he hesitated walking out on a viewing platform that was built jutting out of a cliff that offered spectacular views of the Sleeping Giant rock formation.  When he finally managed to join us out on the platform he froze.  I had to take his hand and encourage his every tentative step to firm ground.

The one thing we failed to see that day was a moose.  We even took one last drive out from camp after supper in the gathering darkness to check out the supposed moose feeding area one last time.  Nothing.  My mother passed away in 1979 with a wild moose sighting still not checked off her bucket list.

I have been fortunate enough to see moose in the wild.  When our oldest son was just six months old we took a camping trip of our own and we saw several moose in Yellowstone Park.  And, about ten years ago, I was hunting whitetail deer in Alberta, Canada and there was one afternoon that I saw a cow and calf moose as I munched a mid-day sandwich.  Then later that same afternoon I saw a big bull moose with impressive headgear pass by at about fifty yards.  But I failed to see a deer that afternoon, the animal that I had traveled thousands of miles to hunt – maybe my mother was wondering what the shoe felt like on the other foot?

His Peace <><

Deacon Dan                

Photo by Danika Perkinson on Unsplash