Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Moose No Longer Incognito

Moose are synonymous to Maine as longhorns are to Texas. And like most visitors from the south, I anticipated seeing one on my first trip to the “Pine Tree State.”

Photo taken August 25, 2012 in New Hampshire

A visit to Mount Vernon, Maine, turned into an amazing five-week adventure as I took on the role of nanny to my twin nieces in 2011. After arriving on a rainy weekend in mid May, I awoke the next morning to a pristine view of Belgrade Stream flowing past my sister’s rental property. Adapting the mindset of being on an extended vacation, I waited patiently for a moose to meander by

Although the rain continued that Sunday, my sister took me to see Maine’s infamous Bar Harbor. During the drive, we spotted scorched blueberry barrens. My brother-in-law, a native Mainer, told me the barrens are burned intentionally to ensure a plentiful harvest. Hopefully the fires didn’t scare the moose into hiding.

Within my first few days in Mount Vernon, I was surprised to see two deer amble across my sister’s backyard. Hopefully a moose would mosey on by, too. However, I pondered if the honking geese in the cove nearby kept them away.

The geese grew quiet and the rain finally stopped the following week. However, pollen blanketed every square inch of the outdoors. The fine yellow dust, coupled with my severe head cold, kept me inside. I wondered where moose go to escape such outdoor elements.

I finally encountered one of the antlered beasts while sightseeing near the southern coast of Maine. Did I mention it was of the chocolate variety? Yes, that’s right. Not the pudding-kind of mousse, but a life-size moose carved out of chocolate at Len Libby’s candy store in Scarborough.

Memorial Day provided a three-day weekend to explore Canada’s Campobello Island. Before crossing the Canadian border, we stopped at a welcome sign touting Lubec, Maine, as the easternmost town in the United States. Wouldn’t it be something if moose roam that far east of their stomping grounds?

The scenic views of lobster boats rolling on the sea and ribbons of fog lacing through piney bluffs on the island were breathtaking and serene. I thought surely moose would enjoy the island way of life, but doubted they’d swim over from the mainland.

A couple weeks into my visit I still had not seen a moose, but scored big regarding the wildlife scene. Wild turkeys strutting across a country road caught my attention. As I inched my car through the bewildered birds, they skedaddled in all directions with wings flapping and neck wattles waggling. Their gobbles faded into the background as I eyed the disheveled flock in my rearview mirror. Adding to my wildlife encounters was the annual turtle migration taking place all over the state. One morning I discovered a large turtle digging a pit in my sister’s gravel driveway to lay eggs. Come to think of it, watching a moose giving birth on the driveway would have been a welcome surprise, too.

Shortly thereafter, my sister, nieces and I went on a whale-watching tour out of Boothbay Harbor. Two hours into the boat ride a whale breached, eliciting oohs and aahs from everyone on board. A moose frolicking on any of the islands we passed could have sent me into another frenzy of oohs and aahs as well.

A glimpse of the evasive creature would have made a sweet ending to my last full day in Maine as my nieces and I pedaled bikes around Portland’s Back Cove. However, such a sighting would not happen on this trip. Another 14 months would pass before I would actually see a real, live moose.

The picture posted at the beginning of this blog entry was taken this past Saturday. While visiting my sister for a third time in Maine, we decided to take a scenic drive through New Hampshire. She had just passed the entrance to the Wildcat Mountain Ski Resort on Route 16. As she rounded a bend in the highway, we came upon cars stopped in the middle of the road. A female moose trotted across the highway. Before I could focus my camera, the critter disappeared down an embankment and into the dense foliage. With the exception of a married couple in an SUV and us, all the other motorists drove away. As I ran across Route 16 toward the place where the moose was last seen, the SUV owner was rushing to the same point. We noticed a dirt road through the trees. He deduced that we could probably gain access by driving back to the ski resort. That is how we came upon the same moose munching on vegetation.

We were less than 15 miles from the Maine border when we spotted that moose in New Hampshire. On my sister’s bucket list was a desire to see a moose roaming free in Maine. Fifteen miles is not worth balking over in order for her to check that item off her list. I’m just happy I was privy to the event.

Maybe one day she’ll be a participant in an item I want to cross off my  bucket list—a hot-air balloon ride.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Marley Look-a-like

I prop my feet on the chair while taking in the scenery from my sister’s deck in Mount Vernon, Maine. A mug filled with hot coffee warms my palms in the cool morning air. A window box on the balcony rail overflows with impatiens, adding a splash of color against the evergreens in the distance and the mountains beyond. The view is breathtaking and peaceful.

Underneath my outstretched legs my sister’s Labrador Retriever is lying very still. The only times I’ve seen her relaxed during daylight hours is when she's asleep after playing hard. At this moment she is not sleeping. She’s just still.

Just as quickly as I make that assessment, her eye catches a wire dangling between my laptop and the electrical outlet on the wall behind me. From a puppy’s point of view, it’s just another chew toy, so I remove the cord from her mouth. She’s lying down again, but can a Labrador puppy ever really be calm? Now she’s gnawing on a bone, distracted.

My sister named her Willow due to the abundance of weeping willows here in Maine. I’ve always considered a weeping willow a graceful-looking tree. This pup is anything but graceful. With her chocolaty-brown eyes, she is a Marley-look-a-like from the 2008 movie entitled Marley & Me. In the 2005 bestselling book with the same title, Marley’s owner must’ve been writing about Willow even though she wasn’t born yet. He experienced firsthand how her breed can be a bit out of control at times.

At only four and a half months old, the top of her head is even with the top of my knee caps. One knee cap, along with my shins, took quite a beating this morning as Willow greeted me, her tail whacking like a baseball bat. However, there is nothing like the overwhelming love when coming face-to-snout with a cute and loyal puppy no matter what size it is. After all, isn’t that why dogs are called man’s best friend?

This furry mass of never-ending energy greets with her whole body, literally. Her head, middle, and hindquarters wiggle and shake in different directions simultaneously while her tail whirls like helicopter blades. Dancing this jig, she crisscrosses one oversize paw in front of the other while walking toward you. Sometimes she just bowls right over you.

My 7-year-old niece, Amber, makes her way to the deck and sits in a chair two feet from me. Her entrance sends Willow into another frenzy of wiggles. The floppy-ear canine paces to and fro between us, her tail thumping against our legs. A computer wire somehow gets wrapped around her neck. After I unwind the cord, she spots a chew rope on the deck. Attached at the end of it is a four-inch toy tire made of hard rubber.  Willow retrieves it and swings the rope from side to side, bashing the tire against my legs. I’m sure the bruises will be gone by the time I head back home in five days.
Willow standing behind pint-size Buddy

My sister’s two Shih Tzu dogs have adjusted somewhat to Willow’s arrival. There has never been a dull moment in this house with these two canines, but now there is more... um, adventure with Willow around. I’m told the older Shih Tzu made it known at the get-go that she would not partake in any roughhousing. Hence, Buddy, the 2-year-old Shih Tzu, had no problem stepping up to the challenge. Thinking he’s as big as the Labrador, this diminutive male instigates a lot of the mayhem involving Willow. He has a habit of running under the kitchen table as the overgrown pup follows in hot pursuit, barreling through chair legs and unsettling anything in her path. I hate to use a cliché, but Willow is the ultimate bull in a china closet. At times, I think Buddy stirs up a ruckus on purpose just to get her in trouble.

I don’t know if Willow will ever learn any refined doggie manners such as not inhaling the whole bowl of water when she gulps. However, her companionship and exuberance will be cherished by my nieces for years to come.

In the meantime, her never-ending shenanigans will leave her humans scratching their heads, wondering what’s coming next.