Can the Moose of Summer Take the Heat?
Warming temperatures cause multiple challenges for moose. Salt Marsh Diary writer Mark Seth Lender watches as a trio of moose search for food in Northern Maine. In this photo--This moose’s leg bleeds where leeches have hung on. (Salt Marsh Diary ©)
GELLERMAN: Northern Maine conjures up images of tall trees and deep snow, lobster, and moose. But come summertime, says Mark Seth Lender, warm weather makes the moose miserable.
LENDER: It is barely first light. But to the bull moose, cloaked in his rugged throw, it is noonday. Though still cool, already too warm. He is pinioned by flies. With great precision, they drive into the skin, following the capillaries and arteries like a roadmap, all in a tormenting rush. On a ground of open water, there is nowhere to hide.
Bull moose, like chocolate left out in the sun, is losing his solidity. But these ponds are his larder and to eat - well, he has no choice. He ducks, head and velveted antlers deep, then thundering spray lips splayed, and a white cloud spreads for twenty feet. Water cascades, runs in rivulets from his face, the great ears pouring out like twin Viking cups, a libation of water. Instantly, the flies return. And now at his ankles, leeches catch a free ride and ride him till he bleeds, bright red against the dark brown of him. He goes, preferring hunger to the heat.
At the sunrise side of the pond and still in shadow, a cow moose with her yearling has come down from the tree-covered hill. They shamble-amble through the shallows, picking out the tender shoots beneath and chewing, loud and openmouthed. Dipping and rising, two great metronomes keeping slow time, their jaws mash and crush the vegetation in counterpoint, a Niagara of water gushing down their chins.
At last the sun finds them, kissing their backs, and the cow decides they too must leave. She calls, a sound between a grunt and some deep brass instrument, and stepping and plunking she walks toward the shelter of the forest. The yearling continues to feed, like a child who will do as she pleases. Her mother strides away. Only then the yearling begins to answer and hurries to follow, and the underbrush snaps and rustles on the path of their long retreat.
[MOOSE SOUNDS IN THE WOODS]
Just after sunset, a large moose trailing her too-late calf-of-the-year swims the entire length of the pond. The calf struggles. Though summer will be long, winter will come and the calf will be too small. The sky reddens their way. Twin wakes, black on the black of water stretch out behind like time, all the time the world has ever known - till now.
GELLERMAN: Author Mark Seth Lender. Mark has a new book of wildlife essays called “Salt Marsh Diary.” For more information and to track down some images of Mark’s moose, go to our website loe.org.
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