Mooseless in Millinocket: How not to impress your new boss

Among my official duties here at the BDN, I am also the self-appointed, semi-qualified president of the Welcoming Committee … and the apparently not-so-qualified, also self-appointed head moose-finder.

So when a new colleague shows up at work (my boss) and tells me she’s never seen a moose, I’m the man for the job.

Or, at the very least, I’m the man whose mouth is too big for his own good, and who says something like this.

Moose tracks in the road. But no moose in sight. (BDN photo by Sarah Walker Caron)

Moose tracks in the road. But no moose in sight. (BDN photo by Sarah Walker Caron)

“Welcome to the BDN. You’ll have a great time here. And by the way, I can find you a moose. Guaranteed.”

Yes, I did.

Me. The guy who can’t find a deer during November. The guy who gets to go fishing for a living and spends most of his days fruitlessly practicing his fly casting technique. I guaranteed … a … moose.

At least, that’s the way our new senior editor, Sarah Walker Caron remembers it. And since she’s the new boss, I guess she’s right.

(Editor’s note: I have witnesses to said guarantee.)

So that’s why we wheeled through Millinocket on Monday, headed west. Destination: Golden Road (also known as “The Place Even John Can Find Moose”).

Wait. Let’s take a step backward. (In the trade, this is called “explaining the extremely difficult position I found myself in.” Or, “a disclaimer.” Or, at the very least, “covering your butt”).

Here’s what you really, really need to know: If I did, in fact, make a we’ll-see-a-moose guarantee, I did so with the full expectation that we’d embark upon our moose safari under cover of darkness, and return long after the sun set.

(Editor’s note: No, he never mentioned darkness as being a stipulation. In fact, a few days earlier, he talked about early morning … and said leaving at 8 am-ish would be perfect. He also spoke of his superior moose-calling abilities, but we’ll get there.)

Honest. That’s what the guarantee meant.

The Golden Road stretches toward Mount Katahdin, which is shrouded in clouds. (BDN photo by Sarah Walker Caron)

The Golden Road stretches toward Mount Katahdin, which is shrouded in clouds. (BDN photo by Sarah Walker Caron)

But there we were, wheeling through Millinocket at the crack of 10 a.m., preparing for our grand adventure. And we had a time deadline, and had to be back in Bangor by 4 p.m.

For those who might have just moved to Maine (not mentioning any names here, boss), I’ve got to offer up another disclaimer.

Maine Moose do not exist between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. in July. State law. They disappear. Poof! Or, at the very least, they hunker down in some of the most god-forsaken spots you can imagine.

Nonetheless, we headed out Golden Road. My favorite moose-watching spots — salad bars, Maine guide Jay Robinson calls them — were full of aquatic growth (the salad). They were also devoid of moose.

I explained to Sarah that I am an optimist. I expect good things to happen. I expect a moose to be standing around every corner. Sarah explained to me that she is more of a realist. She might have hinted that she was losing a bit of faith in her outdoors editor.

Disclaimer number three: In the moose-watching trade, that’s called bad karma. And when one member of a moose safari (again, no names, boss) exhibits that kind of attitude, the moose gods will likely frown upon you.

(Another editor’s note: I didn’t lose faith until hours into said moose expedition — it was the early afternoon and we’d been down the Golden Road and headed back. This is so not my fault.)

Where the heck are we? John consults a map. (BDN photo by Sarah Walker Caron)

Where the heck are we? John consults a map. (BDN photo by Sarah Walker Caron)

Frown they did … but as I already pointed out, that wasn’t precisely my fault. Or at least, that’s my story.

Onward we went. We visited more salad bars, drove down side roads, and once or twice, I cupped my hands to the side of my face — just like the real guides sometimes do — grabbed my nose, and channeled my inner moose.

That, I’ll admit, was a bit of a parlor trick. Even I knew that non-mating moose wouldn’t likely gallop out of the woods to see who was calling to them.

I tried to convince Sarah that she ought to try to call a moose, too. She refused. According to the rules of moose safari behavior (which I may have just made up), I’m pretty sure refusing to grunt like a fool when invited to do so is also a major karma faux pas. The moose gods frowned again.

(Editor’s note: Would you want to be caught on BDN camera attempting such noises?)

Eventually, we stopped for lunch on cliffs that overlook the West Branch of the Penobscot. I gained a little bit of credibility back when the rafters (which I also may have guaranteed) went floating through the rapids.

And then, we headed back.

We gawked. We stopped. We called. We peered through binoculars at suspicious-looking roots in the middle of swamps.

And eventually, we succeeded.

Final disclaimer: If you see my new boss, don’t ask her about this part. I’m quite certain she doesn’t define success the same way I did at that moment.

We saw tracks. Moose tracks. In the road.

And Sarah hopped out of the car, swatted a few hundred mosquitoes, and gamely followed the tracks of her first moose.

Well, let me clarify. It would have been her first moose. If it hadn’t been invisible … or if it hadn’t wandered into the trees just before we got there … or if the tracks hadn’t been made two days earlier.

Either way, I counted that as a success, no matter what names my new boss may have been calling me under her breath.

I am an optimist, after all.

(Final editor’s note: No selfie with moose? Not a success.)


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John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.