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Maine's Moose Country

Maine’s Moose Country
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Coming upon a moose in the wilds of Maine requires that you pass through three stages of comprehension.

FIRST STAGE [denial]

A moose is very large — larger than you’ve ever imagined. If you’re tall and you ran into a moose, you’d knock your head on its shoulder. You must take a moment or two merely to come to terms with the scale of the moose.

SECOND STAGE [alarm]

See stage one, above. Also, moose are unattractive, with a frighteningly bulbous snout and great gangly legs. (Henry David Thoreau was never more truthful than when he wrote, “The moose is singularly grotesque and awkward to look at.”) However, unlike people we all know, moose aren’t bitter about being unattractive, and they don’t usually channel those feelings into aggressive behavior. Coming upon a moose offers no cause for panic.

THIRD STAGE [accommodation]

Once you register its size and appearance, you start to come to terms with it. This is hard, because you want to compare it to something else: A camel? A bison? Bullwinkle? But all comparisons come up lacking. So you slowly begin to see the moose for what it actually is: the reigning mammal of the North Woods. And that is one of those great moments of New England travel.

How to find that moment? Well, that can be a bit tricky. Moose have the troublesome habit of appearing most when you want to see them least — that is, in your headlight beams, when you’re coasting a little too fast around a wide curve late at night. But moose can be surprisingly elusive when you’re actually looking for them. New Englanders are an enterprising lot, however, and so have founded a small industry to connect moose seekers with their quarry. Moose safaris may be found across the northern reaches of the region, wherever spruce and birch start to dominate over oak and maple. The hottest destination, without doubt, is the town of Greenville, on the southern tip of aptly named Moosehead Lake, Maine’s largest. If moose were automobiles, Greenville would be Detroit.

Greenville is in many ways the de facto capital of the North Woods. It’s where Thoreau launched his canoe a century and a half ago when he set off north up the lake to explore the “moosey, mossy” woods of Maine. Even after all these years, it retains the sensibility of a jumping-off point. And if you know where to go, you can still land in forest nearly as pristine as when Thoreau passed through all those years ago. (Be aware that the great majority of the area is commercial timberland, which is anything but pristine.)

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