Northern Exposure

Story & Photos By Kent Weakley

Do images of moose seem a bit disorienting? Well, they are for me. This all started with an innocent response to a photo contest e-mail from Fujifilm, USA. I decided to submit a couple of my Ocala-area infrared images. Months went by and I had completely forgotten about the contest until I received a phone call. I had won the nature category of the Fuji contest. Great, but what came next was a bit disorienting.

“You won the L.L. Bean Moose Photo Trip,” the voice on the phone said.

Moose? I thought.

Oh yes, I do recall something like that with the contest info, but I never imagined winning the trip. Wait, when is the trip? How long is it? Will it conflict with our family’s summer vacation? I was disoriented to say the least.

Moose?!

The plans came together and all the arrangements were made. I prepared the necessary “Maine” accessories: rain gear (for me and the camera equipment), sweater, jacket, coat, gloves, shorts, t-shirts, mosquito repellent, waterproof boots (preferably L.L. Bean’s very own), and sunblock. Sunblock? As the weekend would prove, I used everything I brought, including my back-up and very fashionable mosquito net hood, my new backwoods best friend.

As we got started on Friday, we headed for moose hot spots like “The Salad Bowl” and “Compass Pond.” The weather was mild and partly cloudy, perfect for a moose photo hunt — and mosquitoes. The Maine mosquito motto is “we breed um, you feed um.” It’s really not a joke.

As luck would have it, we found our first moose within ten minutes, a medium-sized cow within close range and a three-to-five-year-old bull in the center of the pond eating aquatic vegetation, the highlight of spring moose cuisine. The excitement was high and getting photo gear together was a bit clumsy with all that extra adrenaline pumping through my body.

Later, we headed further down the road and located a cow with her yearling. This, I later learned, is slightly unique because cows will chase off their yearlings in the spring to make room for the new calf on the way. This practice leaves yearlings to fend for themselves. This thought stayed with me through dinner that evening at the Big Moose Inn. Which, by the way, can you guess one of their dessert menu items?

The next morning, with a 4:00am wake up and a 4:52 sunrise, the disorientation continued. We headed into Baxter State Park, an amazingly huge 200,000-acre preserve purchased and given to the people of Maine by the late Governor Percival Baxter. This gorgeous park is home to moose, deer, black bears, and the great Mount Katahdin, featured in the L.L. Bean logo and the ending (or beginning, depending on your perspective) point of the Appalachian Trail.

The partly cloudy weather from the day before would turn out to be the best weather of the trip. Rain was falling and all the appropriate gear was donned: undershirt, long-sleeve shirt, fleece jacket, rain jacket with accompanying rain pants over jeans, 10-inch rubber boots, topped off with my trusty Tilley hat and my friendly mosquito head net.

This was very perplexing for me. In Ocala, I would simply duck in the car for a few minutes and wait out the rain. In Maine it’s different. It seemed as if someone simply left the water running all day and night. But the rainy sky was actually a blessing and worked well to diffuse the light and help reveal more detail of these relatively dark creatures.

As we made our way to an opening at the edge of a pond, there he was, the disoriented yearling. He was a one-year-old bull standing alone in the water and looking around. And within fifty feet we were all silent in the moment. The only sound was that from our cameras. As we watched, it became apparent he really was bewildered. At times he even looked at us as if to say, “What should I do?”

A larger, three-to-five-year-old bull feeding on the other side of the pond ignored his stares and calls. I really felt for the guy. It reminded me of going off to college — being on my own for the first time was both exciting and scary all at once. Imagine being on the earth for only one revolution around the sun just to be left on your own. He doesn’t even know about the varying weather conditions from year to year. Or does he? Would he be able to adjust? I wondered what he’d seen and not seen. Until this trip, I had never seen a moose in the wild.

Nature is great for making us think and reflect. Spending four days in moose country and learning about this unique mammal has been very enlightening. Not only did I overcome the disorientation of winning, planning, and making the best of the moose photo shoot, I also realized a great lesson. Being disoriented can be a great thing. It’s usually when we are disoriented, at least a little, that we expand our horizons and see things from a new perspective. As for the yearlings, they too go on about their days, foraging, eating, and finding shelter just as their mothers taught them, just now from their own perspective.

Even if that’s a little disorienting.

Want To See More?

visit kentweakley.com

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