Egyptian moose

It’s a good thing moose aren’t typically gregarious since most of us aren’t sure what to call a bunch of them. If one walking-like-an-Egyptian creature is dubbed King Moose Uncommon, would a pair be Royal Meese, or Mooses, or Moosi?

Floral moose with rider

Bullwinkle’s normally solitary ways notwithstanding, the moose in Bennington, VT are behaving in an entirely ungulate fashion these days, congregating like cattle. Yesterday afternoon as we endured the final leg on our drive back from Ohio, Reggie and I stopped in Bennington for a stretch and stroll. Bennington doesn’t always have painted moose dotting its downtown: these colorful sculptures are part of Moosefest 2005, an ongoing arts outreach and fundraising program.

Since moose are the top of every out-of-town visitor’s Must See list, I’m glad to know there’s a colorful herd stationed in Vermont these days. Everyone who visits me in New Hampshire mentions the moose crossing signs that adorn our highways: Are there really huge antlered creatures in these woods, and how do can we go about spotting some? Yes, Virginia, we have moose in northern New England, and yes, I’ve seen them on several occasions here in New Hampshire (albeit not in Keene proper). But moose generally aren’t the kind of animal you can see on demand: moose tend to appear when you least expect them, so if you go looking for the shy and awkward creatures, odds are good that you’ll be disappointed.

Brindled moose

I was enamored with moose long before I moved to New Hampshire, mainly because moose aren’t found where I grew up. White-tailed deer abound in all parts of Ohio, but moose are circumpolar creatures found in only the northernmost portions of the Northern Hemisphere. Because moose were an “exotic” creature I never saw when I was growing up, when I moved to New England I began collecting various and sundry items emblazoned with their image: a flannel sleep shirt, a set of placemats, not one but two stuffed animals, etc.

In the early ’90s, I watched the TV series Northern Exposure partly because I enjoyed its quirky characters and witty humor and partly because a moose figured prominently in the show’s opening credits. Just as I’d as a child referred to Green Acres as “the pig show” because I was a loyal fan of Arnold the Pig, I still to this day refer to Northern Exposure as “the moose show.” Given my moosey proclivities, then, you can imagine my delight upon discovering the streets of downtown Bennington adorned with fancifully painted life-size moose sculptures.

Blue moose

When it comes to loving moose, it seems I’m not alone. Maybe it’s their gangling awkwardness that makes them so endearing, or maybe it’s precisely their unpredictability, the fact you never quite know when or where you’ll see your first (or the next) one. Truth be told, the first two moose (or meese, or moosi) I ever saw were both dead: years ago while driving back to Boston from New Hampshire’s White Mountains, I saw two of the creatures tied to the back of a pickup truck, proof of a remarkably good day’s hunting. Every year here in New Hampshire there is a lottery for moose hunt permits, the number of hunters outnumbering the number of moose to be culled. That two buddies both landed permits and moose is a sign of remarkable luck…for the hunters at least. I’m sure those two late Bullwinkles felt noticeably less lucky.

Henry David Thoreau was both an outspoken critic of moose hunting and a lifelong moose afficionado. There are no moose in Concord, MA, so the second of Thoreau’s three trips to Maine was an actual moose hunt where Thoreau was unarmed and his companions were not. Thoreau’s party bagged a female moose, and Thoreau lamented the butchering of “God’s own cattle”…but he took care to closely observe and measure the creature, figuring like a true scientist that the opportunity to examine a massive moose cadaver was a learning experience he’d never forget.

Multiple moose

Apparently, Thoreau never did forget that moose: on his deathbed, Thoreau’s final words were “moose” and “Indian,” two iconic symbols of the wilderness he so loved. Moose are iconic, inhabiting wild spaces that most folks visit only on vacation or in dreams. Even if you live among moose, there’s something about their silent arrival and gangly ways that never fails to capture your imagination: although nobly impressive in size, they always seem goofy in demeanor, cartoon caricatures in fur coats.

Given the various things moose represent in our human imagination–untouched wilderness, the unpredictability of the hunt, the goofy regalness of a creature whose head and antlers woefully outsize its spindly legs–it’s natural and fitting that Bennington would choose Bullwinkle and Friends as a three-dimensional canvas for local artists’ creative impulses. Although Reggie and I didn’t see any live moose on our 1,400-mile drive to and from Ohio, on our return to New England we were welcomed home by a merry band of moosies, that ultimately being my favored term for a gang of these ganglies.

Flannel & denim moose

Timely moose

Monarch moose

Arborial moose

Escher-esque moose

Main Street moose

Marble monument moose

These artful moose will be on the loose on the streets of Bennington until October; for additional information, see the Moosefest 2005 website.