Saturday, February 7, 2015

Lost Brook Dispatch: You Moose Be Kidding

It is possible that in a past column or two I might have made reference to my mother-in-law; further it is possible that in said reference or references there might have been a maligning whiff in the air. Believe not a word of it! She is a shining paragon of virtue, a sweet, pleasant creature of generous heart, evocative of nothing so much as a gentle summer breeze.

It’s my father-in-law Howard who is the problem.

For months now Howard has been vexing me with his insistence that the Adirondack moose is a creature of fiction – a made-up artifact wrought by over-active promoters who want to show how wild and wooly the region is. Howard, who by now has visited the Adirondacks many times, has seen the moose crossing signs, the moose bumper stickers, moose paraphernalia at the local curio shop, Moose Rivers, Moose Plains, Moose Ponds and even Moose Juice in the grocery store. But no moose. Never once the real thing.

I’m not sure if Howard feels cheated or is simply skeptical of his son-in-law, but his dismissive attitude about the presence of such a noble and magnificent creature in the Park is bothersome. After all, what would the Adirondacks be without the moose? Why does he think all these places on the map are named after moose anyhow?

I myself have seen a moose in the Adirondacks exactly twice. Both sightings were in the Western Adirondacks, the first a clear but distant view across a marsh and the second a much closer experience along the edge of a bog. The creature in this second sighting was obscured by brush to the point that I never got a clear view of him. His evident bulk however, as indicated by the unnerving volume of brush he displaced as he moved, eliminated other possibilities.

I’d long coveted a closer encounter with a moose, but since the afternoon a friend of mine related the story of a trip to the Boundary Waters in Minnesota during which she was charged by a pissed-off bull moose, I’ve tempered my desires. Her description of trees being knocked over as the enraged ungulate came on sticks vividly in my mind.

Of course, who needs a close sighting of a moose in order to appreciate it? Just the very image of one will do! The moose is, after all, a singular beast. With an incomparable snout and gawky legs, not to mention a visage that seems benevolent and well-humored, the moose’s funky collection of accoutrements is nonpareil. Was there ever such a creature?

So singular is the moose that even the word that names him is singular. “Moose.” Savor that word, for there is no better one in the English lexicon. “Moose” has the same no-nonsense satisfaction as the word “dog”: un-fussily monosyllabic, definitively phonetic, vaguely pleasant and uncannily appropriate.   But “moose” reaches greater heights than “dog,” or even something like “capybara.” In a way that’s not entirely clear, it’s onomatopoetic. A moose is just “moose,” somehow. There could be no other possibility.

We owe a debt to the Algonquian-speaking Native Americans who named it (the etymology of “moose” is “he strips off,” referring to the moose’s penchant for removing bark from trees). They really nailed it; it’s a linguistic master stroke. Saying the word out loud is so satisfying that it has been a tradition in our household for years to gather and say “Moose” repeatedly, employing various tones and cadences. More than a few observers of this ritual have concluded that we are a family of lunatics, but we know what we are doing and the pleasure of saying its name over and over again has only increased our collective affection for the animal itself.

“Moose” is a word with which one does not mess. For instance, one doesn’t pluralize it: even the plural is singular! Some have tried. A few references to “mooses” can be found – which strikes me as an unintentional opportunity to confuse and insult the nearest married woman. Apparently there was a flirtation with “meese,” which quite frankly is pathetic and only serves to evoke Huckleberry Hound cartoons.

My description of the pluralization problem pales before the wit present in the following note we find in the Wiktionary under “moose” etymology:

The use of moose in the plural is sometimes problematic. The regularly formed plural, mooses, is by now rare and its use may be regarded as irksome and uneuphonious. The form meese—formed by analogy with goose → geese—will in most cases be greeted with a snicker, and is thus generally only appropriate in humorous contexts; even pragmatics notwithstanding, because moose has Algonquian origins—wholly unrelated to the Germanic roots of goose, on whose pattern the plural meese is formed—an umlaut plural form is etymologically inconsistent. The etymologically consistent plural form would be *mosinee,[2] but this plural form sees no use in English. In ordinary common usage, moose is treated as an invariant noun, which means its plural is also moose (as with the names of many animals, such as deer and fish, which are also invariant); however, this usage can sometimes be considered stilted when a group of more than one moose are considered individually, in which case avoidance of the plural may be the best option, necessitating the employment of a circumlocution.

Try saying that out loud in a single breath. I plan to memorize that paragraph and produce it in an out-of-context soliloquy at my next dinner party.

Then there is the question of adjective form – or I should say there is no question of it at all. The first possibility – “moosish” – is a bizarre non-starter. But even the more benign “moose-like” has no place. The moose stands alone in all the universe; how can anything be moose-like? Here, try it if you don’t believe me:

“Wow, that geranium is moose-like.”


“Your mother’s moose-like laughter rubs me the wrong way.”

Nope. Far more satisfying just to say “moose” out-loud, over and over.

“Moose” even stands firm against the contemporary obnoxious trend to turn everything into a verb. I’m told that I have parented my children, for example. I can assure you however, I’ve never moosed them, even when screaming the word at them repeatedly.

Finally, there is this. While digging around for the story of “moose” I learned that a group of moose might be called a herd but can also be referred to a as “fangle.” Fangle! I looked far and wide for any other species whose group would be referred to as a “fangle.” Believe me when I tell you there was none. And of course not! Listen to the phrase, for goodness sakes: a fangle of moose. That’s too perfect. It’s sublime. It belongs on a T-shirt, with no explanatory text to sully it. It’s so expressive I can hardly stand it: “Hide the children, Martha:! Here comes a moose fangle!” The mind boggles.

From Merriam Webster we get the following contribution:


1: a fashion especially when foppish or silly —used with new and usually derogatorily

2: obsolete : a silly or fantastic contrivance

Without question that’s as perfect a fit for a set of moose as could be imagined. So, Howard, listen up: have your fun if you will, but your day of moose fangling will come.

Photo: Moose at Helldiver Pond (photo by John Warren).

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Pete Nelson

Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.

When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.

Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.

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28 Responses

  1. Jim S. says:

    I also have never seen one of those large animals in the Adirondacks, they are shy and moosterious by nature.

  2. Bill says:

    Any tips on identifying loose moose poope?

  3. Dean says:

    (on the subject of in-laws)

    i feel great, folks, I just got back from a pleasure trip…
    I took my mother-in-law to the airport.

  4. Keith Silliman says:

    I have seen three. Last Fall, we took the grand kids on a picnic on the North Branch of the Saranac River. As we were driving back to camp, we came across a Bull Moose, sitting in the middle of the road. The 4 year old asked me why he was sitting there. “because he can” i said. We watched him for about ten minutes, until he stood up and wandered off.

  5. Ed Zahniser says:

    A wonderful dan-fangle of a tale for this sabbath, worthy of several exultations of larks.

    I won’t mention names, but, two teenaged boys in a canoe on a beaver pond out West witnessed a moose step into the pond to feed. The boy in the bow stood up, pulled out his slingshot and shot the moose in the butt. The moose bolted not for shore but for the canoe. The boy in the stern paddled one mightiest-ever backstroke, plunging standing bow boy headfirst into the pond where he got mud-mired, so the stern boy had to stand up in the canoe, grab bow-boy’s ankles and give a mighty pull to liberate the slingshot-ist. The moose, who had probably never seen humans act that way, stopped his or her charge.

    Alaska moose are a different — much bigger — story. Adolph Murie had a 35mm slide with a big moose at the left of the frame and a grizzly bear at the right of the frame. They were just staring at each other. Adolph said the bear eventually went about its business.

  6. Pete Nye says:

    Pete: kudos. went well with my morning coffee. nice to wake up with a laugh.
    and, I haven’t seen one either ! 🙂

  7. Steve Hall Steve Hall says:

    Really funny and informative, Pete. I didn’t know about the Algonquin derivation, which concisely describes what moose do in Winter. I’ve seen three moose in the Adirondacks over the past 15 years, so they’re here, but not frequently encountered. The best place to see moose in North America is Algonquin Park, about 300 miles northwest of Lake Placid (and well worth the drive!), and west of Ottawa. Look for Rte 60 west, through the Park, where they’re often encountered browsing in the bogs and at the edges of forest.

    There are more moose per square kilometer on Newfoundland than anywhere else in North America, and they’re an introduced species, beloved by hunters and tourists, and feared by local motorists! Baxter State Park in Maine is another great place to see moose, and you may see them on the drive there through Vermont and New Hampshire. At the risk of squeezing another article about “moose” etymology out of Pete, Happy Moosing!… or would it be like canoeing…mooseing?

  8. Steve Hall Steve Hall says:

    Oh… should have added, as great places to see moose, if you’re traveling, Grand Tetons south of Yellowstone, as well as Denali National Park and the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska.

  9. Ginny Alfano says:

    While your father-in-law may doubt the existence of Moose in the Adirondacks, it certainly wasn’t a figment of our imagination when we almost hit a big bull one night while going around a curve outside of Long Lake. Luckily, for him and for us, my husband’s expert driving skills saved us from a probable encounter. Thank goodness that there wasn’t a fangle of them or contact would have been unavoidable!!

    • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

      Dear Ginny:

      I forwarded this very helpful piece of evidence to my father in law, who immediately pooh-poohed it. I think this is very disrespectful of him.

      So those of you who would like to tell him that he’s wrong wrong wrong, feel free to comment thusly!

      Thanks Ginny,


  10. drdirt says:

    thnx Pete, great writing as usual .,., your diversity is quite new-fangled.
    last winter, we came upon a bedding area w/ lots of moose poop while backcountry skiing outside of Wells. I hate to say where exactly, but it took a lot of leg `moosle` to get there.

  11. Mike Kelly says:

    Well done! I will have to pencil it in on the margins of my dog-eared copy of Exaltation of Larks… the source of many wonderful group names that date back to the Middle Ages, including a gang of elk (which makes one wonder why it’s not a mob of moose?), a murder of crows, a parliament of owls, a knot of toads and, of course, an exaltation of larks and many more.

  12. stan says:

    I am almost ashamed to say it, but my moose sighting was at Moose Pond near Bloomingdale. I was canoeing on a rainy, foggy afternoon by the rocks on the right, watching a loon. The moose entered the water from the woods on the south and swam over to the sandy area in the east. Probably 15 minutes of the ultimate ADK experience. Light rain, fog, Whiteface Mt, beautiful water, a loon, and a moose, and me.

  13. Ben says:

    I’ve been coming to the Adirondacks since 1961 but have never seen a moose either.

  14. Big Burly says:

    As always great writing Pete.

    Have had 4 encounters with moose. One I shot while hunting in northern Quebec, another many years later with a car in Newfoundland near Goobies — I survived, he did not. Another with a pair that jumped out of the woods from deep snow into the Renous highway in New Brunswick — was with a pal — we swerved between them … and stopped a mile or so down the road to change clothes :). The last, so far, seen in a field about 50 feet off the highway in Vermont. No sitings here in the ADKs, yet.

    Magnificent creatures

  15. munn says:

    I have only seen moose once in the wild & that was in Colorado. In the middle of nowhere was a bull moose, harem and many, many moose children. I thought I detected a smile on the bull moose. He was bathing alone in a small pond.

    Since you relate to Blue Mountain Lake (and, you aren’t a local) and I do to, my bet is on Hemlock Hall, the greatest place in the universe! 🙂

    • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

      Hemlock Hall may indeed be the greatest place in the universe. We stayed down shore most of the time in a private camp but we knew it well.

      This story will interest you: Kissing Kate

      Hemlock Hall handled the linens and other services for the owners of our camp so we were invited to use their facilities and spent some wonderful time there. Many years later my wife and I spent our honeymoon there.

  16. Brian says:

    Moose be my lucky year. We have a female behind our cabin in the foothills of the Dacs. Just 2 sightings so far, but the tracks look like snowshoe prints.

    Thanks for the great article.

  17. Bob Kibbey says:

    Which brings me to the question,, “how much do stilt walkers get paid now -a -days, when they’re stilt walking, professionally, of course?”


    • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

      More than you would think. It got our kids most of the way through college and kept us in our house. If we did it exclusively instead of it being something that compliments our teaching and other work, we’d live comfortably.

  18. Curt Austin says:

    As far as I can tell – and I live in the Park – the preferred habitat of moose is a large asphalted area in symbiosis with copious quantities of ATMs. Regarding the plural form of the word – there is simply no demonstrated need; the greater need is a more elegant way to express a state of moose-less-nish. Hypomoose? The most common sign of moose is a … sign.

    I favor a rule, administered by the APA, that allows a business to include “Moose” in its name only when a moose has been seen on the property. The first qualifying business is likely to be a bank.

  19. Paul says:

    two sightings for me also. Big Richard near saranac lake way back and a bull when deer hunting on the Santa Clara tract a few years back. very exciting. someone I hunt with also found one dead on our hunting club a bunch of years ago. the dec investigated and cornell said it died of natural causes. there are tons of moose sign in these same areas now but it seems hard to run into them. I guess you gotta get in the woods later in September when they are rutting to increase your chances. they are doing well in some areas.

  20. Paul says:

    my neighbors at my camp saw one walk down a staircase (seriously) then jump off a dock and swim across the river and run up what is like a sheer rock face in front of my camp a few years back. I saw the tracks in my yard and believe him.

  21. Dan Crane Dan Crane says:

    In 2002, I saw a moose at G Lake, which is near Piseco Lake – my first (and only) moose sighting in the Adirondacks. However, I have seen a lot of moose sign since then.

    In 2011, I saw a lot of moose poop just east of the Robinson River on the way to Oven Lake and ponds north in the Five Ponds Wilderness. In 2013, I saw more moose poop than I want to admit along the north shore of Middle South Pond in the Five Ponds Wilderness.

    They are out there roaming the Adirondacks, you just need to get out into the backcountry and seem them on their terms.

  22. Hans Strömhäll says:

    Hi Peter
    I found your article about the Adirondack moose very interesting. And I will definitely keep my eyes open next time in the Adirondacks. You said in your article that there is no verb connected to the moose in english. For example the expression “to moose” does not exist. However, in swedish, the moose’s close relative, the elk, has a verb dedicated to it. Or at least it had when I grew up in western Sweden in the 1970:s. The verb “to elk” or in swedish “att älga” [at elja] means to run with long steps. Most commonly used for people with long legs.

    Best regards, Hans Strömhäll, Stockholm, Sweden

    • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

      Dear Hans:

      This is a fabulous contribution. The fact that the Swedish have a verb form for “elk” reinforces everything I have ever believed about my Swedish heritage.

      My father was nearly 6’6″ so he elked as a matter of course.



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