The image to the left shows a moose carcass encountered deep in the woods of #4 Mountain in Frenchtown, Maine. It was found while examining soils and hydrology along a possible trail location associated with the Moosehead Lake Region non-motorized trails project.
I can’t say what killed the moose, and frankly, we didn’t linger long as the day was cold and rainy with a good deal of ground to cover. The lingering that did take place has been the moose in my mind.
It’s not uncommon to encounter dead animals, bleached bones, blood on snow, piles of feathers, or other signs of death in the woods or along our waters. I’ve even come across dead creatures larger than moose. Working with our partners, the Maine Island Trail Association, I’ve observed both a dead minke and dead humpback whale.
Still, carcasses lying on shore or under forest canopies have a powerful resonance. Did this moose die in a flurry of panic and adrenaline? Did it suffer long and finally give up the ghost beneath spruce trees on the side of this remote mountain? Could mobs of tiny winter (moose) ticks have consumed the health of this massive animal? Did it lay down in the faded-light and vibrant foliage of September or October? Did it meet its demise in the raging winds of a subzero winter night? Perhaps it survived the deep snows and frigid winter temperatures only to pass as ephemeral spring flowers first hinted at emerging from damp soil.
Again, I did not engage in detective work, and even if I had, I may lack the detective skills to establish the circumstances of its death. Instead, I mulled its life over and thought of my personal preference for the end of this specific symbol of the north woods. I see these picked-over bones as a last resting place of a being that breathed in the frosty air, dipped in cool clear pond water to escape flies, chewed aquatic vegetation while loon calls reverberated in sheltered coves , and lived a full life in a place made for it and vice-verse.
In particular, I see this gentle ridge as the place where a great creature closed its eyes and let a sifting snow pile jagged flake upon jagged flake atop its still body. I see the heat from the carcass diminishing like a setting sun dipping behind the dark mountains. I see a powerful winter cloaking the great corpse. And finally, I see the moose’s body emerging in spring like an offering waiting to renew life for other creatures.
The forest floor around the carcass was well-worn. I’m sure the sustaining energy of meat, bone, soft tissue, and sinew did not gone to waste. Left alone, this resting place will eventually conceal all – as with the millions of silent grave sites in the natural areas of our forests. I see hikers stopping here to perhaps sip water or have a trail lunch. I see birdwatchers pausing to listen to a ruby-crowned kinglet. I see a backpacker adjusting his or her load while breathing in the cool, clear air. And the moose will be there. Its bones will be gone and none will know directly, but it will remain. It will be one thread in the invisible tapestry draped across the north woods.