Of Moose and Men

Of Moose and Men

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stories of Faith

Of Moose and Men

Don’t be discouraged. It’s often the last key in the bunch that opens the lock.

~Author Unknown

Gardening in the mountains of northwestern Maine has its own peculiarities. Our planting-and-growing season is tucked in between the final thaw and the first killing frost; you may miss it entirely if you have to go out of state for the weekend or take a long nap.

The wildlife is another challenge, but we have learned to manage it. Our dinner guests have gotten used to the delicate scent of insect repellent wafting from the just-picked salad. We’ve built a chest-high chicken-wire fence to keep out lettuce-happy rabbits. The deer seem to be scared off by our barking dogs, two elderly golden retrievers who wouldn’t know what to do with a deer if it lay down for them and poured gravy over its neck. All was well... until the moose came to the buffet table.

There is something about a bull moose. With its way-too-long legs, its huge, nose-heavy head and drooping turkey wattle, its massive rack and hairy body, the moose comes as close to qualifying for Jurassic Park as anything you’re likely to see on this continent. Out of season for hunters in the summer, the adult male moose is king. And a king eats when and where he wants.

It was an early August morning that I found the lettuce trampled, several rows of corn nibbled, and those unmistakable hoof prints in the soft soil of our little patch. It appeared that the moose had simply stepped over the fence, chowed down and stepped back into the woods.

We were a little tired of washing lettuce anyway, but we had been looking forward to our corn. I sprang into action. Up went a scarecrow in old overalls, plaid shirt and a felt fishing hat. A rusted BB gun resting against his hip completed the vigilant picture. I went to sleep that night sure that no moose in his right mind would have the nerve to walk into so guarded a garden.

The next morning, of course, proved me dead wrong. New hoof prints circled the scarecrow and wandered away from the corn down to the sugar snaps. As I picked the remaining peas, I racked my brain for another course of action.

I had read somewhere that moose and deer dislike the smell of soap. I ran into the house, grabbed every cake of it, and returned with my trusty pocket knife. Bits of soap were soon sprinkled around the entire perimeter of the garden, giving the area a strangely refined and indoor smell.

But looking more closely, I decided that I had spread my moose repellent too thin. Since we were now out of soap, I came up with what I thought was a wily addition—dog hair. If my dogs weren’t man enough to actually attack a marauding moose, maybe their scent would do the trick. I scoured the yard for fallen fur and sprinkled the smelly stuff around the already soapy garden.

Sweet or stinky, I had my bases covered. Or did I? In what I can only attribute to some insane, primal urge, I added my final touch under cover of darkness. After several beers with dinner and two sizeable cups of coffee, I patrolled the garden perimeter before bed, making my mark on every fence post with bladder control my dogs might have envied.

Relieved, I went to bed, satisfied with my personal contribution to protecting what was mine.

Perhaps it was the fact that the soap was Yardley lavender. Maybe the lake had washed the carnivorous smell out of my dogs’ coats. Or it could have been that hops are more enticing the second time around. Whatever, the next morning revealed fresh tracks, newly gnawed corn and beans, and distinctly fewer soap flakes. Somewhere out there was a very full, very clean moose.

That day was a gloomy one, with little hope of bathing. By mid afternoon, however, I was barreling back from town with post extensions, a bale of wire, porcelain insulators and a 6,000-volt battery. It was time to show my foe some of the benefits of evolution. I strung two rows of conductive wire above the existing garden fence, topping off at a height of more than six feet. Switching on the current as the sun went down, I felt a little like the warden at Alcatraz going home for the night.

I slept the sleep of the innocent and the deluded. Apparently the crashing, wrenching sounds didn’t wake me from my dreams of triumph. The next morning, as I walked out back to the produce penitentiary, I stopped in frozen disbelief at the gate. The entire northwest corner of the fence had been caved in and dragged across a full third of the garden, mowing down every vegetable over three inches tall. The moose, it seemed, had stumbled into my high-tech barricade and only been startled enough by the zap it got to take off posthaste in the direction it was heading anyway. Once the beast had trampled the fence and disconnected the current, it apparently remembered why it had got into such a tangle and stopped to graze in the bottom half of the garden.

Looking back, that final day was an oddly peaceful one. For I discovered that aside from our towering intellect, the other quality which makes us human is our ability to admit defeat.

After a breakfast of half of the remaining strawberries (leaving the other half for my garden’s new co-owner), I set to work straightening out what was left of my fence. I hosed the remaining soap shavings into suds. The wind blew the dog hair into the surrounding woods. Finally, I took one more ride into town. I returned the battery to the hardware store as unsatisfactory—they didn’t have to know why. Needless to say, when I returned to camp that afternoon, I pulled down the scarecrow.

In its place, I put up something more appropriate... a small statue of Saint Francis of Assisi.

~Peter Guttmacher

Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul

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