Recently, I ended up driving along a lonely stretch of Highway 11 in the middle of the night. I was on a long ride back from New Liskeard after visiting some friends. I drove home in the dark in my lumbering Ford F150 half-ton truck. After an hour of monotonous driving along the seemingly never-ending stretches of the Trans-Canada Highway, I reached the Kirkland Lake turnoff and then drove further north through the wilderness. It began to drizzle on and off and that made the road dangerous. I slowed down knowing full well that driving in rain at night on a fairly remote highway can be a recipe for disaster.
On a straight stretch of roadway, suddenly a large mass appeared in front of me. I immediately slowed down as I realized I had come upon a giant bull moose standing and staring at me in my lane. It seemed as though time had stopped for an instant as I stared at the moose and he looked calmly at me. I had to swerve to get around him and just squeezed by. He had no intention of moving for me and I was more than happy to give him the road.
As I drove on, flickering my lights at oncoming traffic to warn them of the danger behind me, I was in disbelief at the size of this moose. From the brief image that appeared in the dark, I distinctly remember seeing the animal’s forefeet standing close to the white shoulder line and his hindfeet almost touching the centre yellow line. As I passed him I determined that his shoulder rose higher than the cab of my 4x 4 truck. It dawned on me at this point that I was certainly fortunate to have seen this majestic and stoic moose with a full rack of antlers on my ride north. Then it occurred to me that I had been lucky enough to cheat death as my lights caught the moose standing still and facing me as I motored along Highway 11. Often, people don’t survive accidents involving head-on collisions with moose.
My moose was clearly an elder. He had the biggest rack of antlers I have ever seen. I must say that he was a beautiful creature with lighter-toned hairs over the hump of his back and a large bell or beard hanging from his neck. Moose are known to live up to 15 years of age in the wilderness and even longer in captivity. I am sure my moose had seen his share of headlights in the dark and no doubt he had probably endured the flash of a rifle shot in his direction.
Moose are more active this time of year as it is their rutting or breeding season and males are on the move to find mates while females are actively looking for food so that they can successfully bear offspring. Many of them are also on the run from hunters. I recall stories from Elders of the James Bay coast that relate to the strength and endurance of the moose. When a moose is frightened and his or her life is in danger, he or she can travel quickly through many kilometres of wilderness a day. They can run for days and cover a large expanse of land. What might seem impossible terrain and foliage for us to manoeuver through is not a great obstacle to a 600-kilogram moose.
I am always amazed at the fact that these large ancient animals still roam our forests. They walk in the wilderness very near our northern towns and cities.
Big bulls weigh up to 600 kilograms in most of Canada and the giant Alaska-Yukon subspecies weighs as much as 800 kilograms. The moose is the largest member of the deer family.
I surprise a lot of my friends when I tell them that the first time I ever saw a live moose was from my motorcycle on a highway. Most people would think that since I grew up in Attawapiskat, a remote First Nation community on the James Bay coast, that I would have seen many moose. No doubt about it there is a lot of wildlife in and around Attawapiskat and I have been on many rivers and ventured out to the islands on the great James Bay but never saw a live moose. When I was young, the only time I ever caught sight of a moose was when someone had shot one and they were in the process of butchering it.
I was taught by my Elders that sighting a moose or any large animal was considered a significant event. There was a sense of privilege or honour to be able to be in the presence of these reclusive animals. It was rare to see a moose in the mushkeg landscape of the James Bay coast and they were careful to avoid people as they understood that we considered them a food source. If we met one in the wild by accident than it was considered a lucky event that could bring good fortune.
I don’t think that old bull moose enjoyed our quick meeting on the highway in the dark. I wondered to myself who was crossing whose path that night. I guess if I was really honest about it, the moose had the right of way. That moose, through his ancestors, has been crossing the highway at that point for thousands of years. That thought made me feel like a tourist.