Labrador Caravan

July 5, 2007

On the trip up the Great Northern Peninsula I was surprised by critters. One hears a lot about animals here, but I didn’t see very many last year. This time, though, it seemed to be the season of the moose.

Of course tourists are repeatedly warned about the moose when they come to Newfoundland. Don’t drive at night, we are told, keep alert, walk away from them if you see them on the trails as they can be dangerous. Moose are bigger than you, if you hit them with your car they’ll be the one to walk away. Especially stay away from females with young.

Well, the moose I saw seemed much more interested in eating than in anything else. Near l’Anse aux Meadows, I woke as the sun was rising, and stepped out of the van in search of a sheltered spot to relieve myself. Instead, I spotted a pair of moose just across the road, grazing on the new buds on the bushes. I returned to the van to grab the camera and slipped back out, hoping to catch pictures without disturbing them.

They couldn’t have cared less about me, as it turned out. The female eased her way down the road, while the male came my way, conveniently offering a silhouette of his magnificent antlers against the rising sun as if he knew I wanted his photo. He came down the road near the van, nibbling as he shuffled along. He paused for a moment to let out a stream of urine that splashed on the ground, indifferent to me and my camera watching him. Then ambled further, turning occasionally to see if I was still there.

When I couldn’t wait and finally squatted behind a bush myself, he watched me just as I’d watched him. Seemed only fair.

The next night I pulled the van into a clearing by an abandoned industrial building near St. Anthony’s, popped the top and pulled out the blankets. Stepping outside, I realized I was sharing the clearing with a pair of female moose, tearing off leaves as they stepped clumsily on their gangly legs. They stayed a long time, edging around the clearing from one clump of bushes to another. Just as one stepped into the road, a car came barreling down – surely a local, the tourists were far too well indoctrinated with the dangers of driving at night. The driver slammed on the brakes as the moose skittered into a fenced enclosure next to the building. Moose okay, driver okay. But to my surprise, he didn’t leave. He turned his car to face the moose, flashing his headlights and honking his horn. The moose moved to the back of the enclosure away from him, but she was trapped, the only way out was blocked by his car.

Hunting? Seemed unlikely in the middle of the night. Trying to scare her so she’d stay away from the road? I’d heard that moose are so stupid they’d never learn from something like that. I don’t know what he was after, but eventually he drove off. The moose and her companion lumbered across the road and disappeared into the woods.

The most surprising sight was out on the highway in the middle of the day. Suddenly the small blue car in front of me stopped in the middle of the road, then pulled over into the shoulder. Thinking something must be wrong, I pulled over too, then saw what she had seen. A black bear in the middle of the road, heading towards the woods.

Without a thought I grabbed the camera and jumped out of the van, snapping pictures as quickly as I could. So did the driver of the other car, a young woman with a local accent. As we gazed in amazement at this wild creature, she told me she’d lived her whole life on the peninsula and had never seen a bear before. The bear sat in the brush below the road embankment, slipped into the trees, then came back into sight.

The moment was eerie. Spatially, his world crosses ours. But our world is just a ribbon of road snaking through the forests where we never venture. Whereas his world is the forest, and the road a strange crevice that he must jump from time to time, hoping not to encounter the metal creatures that race through it. We know what he is, but I wonder if he even knows that people exist. Maybe all he knows is that there is a narrow gap in his world with noisy things hurtling through from time to time.

For that moment our worlds intersected, but soon enough he disappeared back into his and we climbed back into our metal boxes to continue through ours.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all text and photos on this page © Joy E. Hecht.