Chasing the moose

Embracing adventure at every opportunity

John Pepin

The sky was bright blue and sunny with a few clouds floating by above us.

I felt happy to be outside anywhere, feeling numb with my senses dulled by the blur, stress and anxieties of the holidays.

But the place my boots would take me today was far better than just anywhere outside. My brother Jimmy and I were headed out for hike along one of the most beautiful rivers I know.

It’s not only great to fish, its braids and bends, adorned with countless stones and gravel on its shoulders, and with numerous rapids and waterfalls rushing, roaring and trickling is a spectacular place to experience.

I believe it is the kind of place that if you visit it once you will never forget it.

I was surprised to discover as we drove along the winding back roads that my brother had never been to this place before. I had been here many times, beginning sometime back in my high school days.

But he didn’t get the opportunity to spend much of his growing up here. He had moved to Canada at the age of 9 when my parents divorced.

I was 13 then and the only one of us four kids old enough to be afforded the chance to stay in Michigan with my dad.

As we moved through the changing forest types on our journey, we revisited a few places my brother recognized we had been before.

Another watercourse followed alongside the road.

At a bridge we stopped to look at the water and I noticed animal tracks in the mud bigger than my outstretched hand.

They were quite fresh moose tracks. Oddly, these didn’t have any peanut butter cups in them nor chocolate or vanilla ice cream.

We figured we hadn’t missed seeing the moose by much time at all, certainly no more than a couple of hours at the longest. Maybe it was still around?

I turned my Jeep off the main road to follow the moose tracks as they disappeared down a muddy two-track. We followed slowly, hoping we might see the animal around the next bend or the one after that.

The moose had walked past a wetland area on both sides of the road to cross a culvert crossing where the creek ran through, before the road took a sizable climb up to a place where the road split into three different paths.

At the base of that hill, the moose tracks stopped in the road and turned to the left with some sense that something had disturbed the animal because it had turned around in the middle of the road.

Chunks of mud were kicked up where this occurred. The trail then continued off the road and into the bush where vegetation of the understory had clearly been pushed down by something big.

We shut the Jeep off and got out to look closer at all of this.

My brother made a few attempts to call this moose, with sounds he’d learned hunting the animals in Canada.

We stopped talking to listen for any sounds in the lowland woods before us that were sunken beneath the level of this old road.

I took a few deep breaths of the clean air and closed my eyes. My brother called again. We listened again intently, but we didn’t hear anything or see anything.

We got back in the vehicle and after turning around at the top of the hill, headed slowly back through the same area, looking for the moose.

At the main road, we turned and continued ahead to another scenic backroad that presented us with higher elevations and different forest types to admire.

Without any snow and all the leaves down, we could see a good distance through the trees to hills and valleys and other features not visible during what would typically be wintertime white this time of year.

It wasn’t all that long before we got to the river, parked and got out.

We began our exploration as we would have as kids, by first standing on the bridge and looking up and down the river.

Even from the bridge, my brother had already spotted a place he would have liked to drop a line for what we both presumed must have been hungry trout just waiting for something to eat.

We walked down along one side of the river, passing under maples, beeches and other hardwoods, while closer to eye level we encountered numerous balsam firs and hemlocks.

The coolness of the forest had dropped the temperature a bit from earlier when we were out in the sunshine, but the day was still quite pleasant. In fact, I had worn a jacket I wish I hadn’t for the hike because it made me too warm.

I got a few pictures of the river, but I could never capture it the way it looked when we were there. A lot of that I attribute to the time of day, with sunlight washing out the trees in the top of the photo, fallen shadows blackening the river in the foreground.

However, I did get a couple of great shots of my brother as he stood downstream of a thundering waterfall looking at the water, while standing on the edge of a gravel bar.

After looking at several more possible good fishing holes, we ambled back up along the edge of the river to the bridge.

We headed home with me naming some roads and turn offs to help lay down a map in my brother’s head of where we were, had been and would eventually end up in an area recognizable to him.

As we returned, our journey took us past several very picturesque woodland sights.

I also took him down a road I knew we had been down as young kids, but he didn’t remember ever being there.

There was a dam here with an outflow that was fed by a stream that joined up with the river after tumbling down a hillside in a splashy, talkative waterfall.

I recalled brown trout I’d caught here in the past and pointed out features my brother might like to return to one day for more exploration.

A day or two later, we found ourselves on another bush cruise, headed this time in the opposite direction, finding a secluded lake he hadn’t seen in over 40 years.

There were features that were similar to what we’d remembered, but a fresh timber cut helped make the area look very different from what either of us recalled. I hadn’t been back to the place in about a decade.

The lake was covered with a thin covering of ice that looked crystal blue with the reflecting of the sky above. At the shoreline of the lake, we saw some more big animal tracks in the mud.

These were made by a horse.

It was another spectacular sunshiny day in the woods.

After linking up to the highway, we switched off on another dirt road I’ve grown quite fond of over the past few years. I rediscovered it a couple of years back after I used to go hunting down this road with my folks when I was a kid.

This hidden delight would be our scenic route back toward home.

We had only gone a mile or so down the road when we spotted another set of moose tracks in the road ahead of us.

We followed this set for a half-mile or more before they disappeared into some tall grasses at a place where the road intersected with a couple others. Like the tracks we’d seen the day before, these were fresh and were made by an adult moose.

We continued slowly hoping to spot the animal, but again no luck.

The road narrowed as we approached a backwoods pond that was frozen over. It was a place a moose would very likely spend some time. Perhaps on another day.

We encountered several puddles on our travels that had been frozen over.

At some, our tires crashed on through cracking the ice lenses and splashing water up under the vehicle.

At others, the ice was thick and solid, and we’d drive right across making little or no impact on the ice at all. Only in the deepest parts of the woods did we find any snow at all, and even then, it was only small patches hidden in the shade of trees.

For me, it was two days that I got to spend enjoying the woods with my brother. That’s a rare occasion, especially just the two of us. It was a great time. I hope we will be able to do much more of this as the days, months and years roll by.

It was almost like we were kids again except we weren’t riding bicycles to the woods, our mom wasn’t looking for us as it was getting dark, and we didn’t have to ask if we could be taken to these places far from home.

I am already eager to get back out there again.

Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula.


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