Notes from William Brewster: Moose!

A black and white illustration of two moose, a male with antlers standing in front of a female.

Moose illustration from 'Our living world; an artistic edition of the Rev. J. G. Wood's Natural history of animate creation', vol. 1, by Wood and Holder. New York :S. Hess, 1885. See volume on BHL

In late August 1869, Brewster went canoeing alone in a marshy cove at Lake Umbagog, Maine, a place where he often spent his summers studying local ecology and practicing nature photography. That day he made an unexpected find that excited him so much that he filled almost seven pages of his journal with it.

Here’s an abridged version of the encounter:

I was watching intently for more [ducks] when I heard a loud, regular slosh, slosh, slosh in the direction of the dead larch forest which borders the marsh on its northern side. Looking towards the point from which this sound came I was surprised to see a large black object emerge from the stubs and more steadily out into the open marsh.

When I first put my glass on it I took it to be a Horse[.] [...] ‘Some beast that has strayed from the Megalloway settlement & become lost in the woods’ I said to myself.

Slosh, slosh slosh as it plodden [sic] [plodded] slowly and laboriously on through the deep, soft mud; then, as two loud reports from a gun fired by one the Crocker youths rang over the marsh and sent back crashing echoes from the background of dry stubs, the beast stopped, raised its head and erected a pair of huge ass-like ears.

A succession of thrills ran through me, my hands shook until I could positively see nothing through the field glass for at that instant I realized for the first time that I was looking at a big Moose. Presently I got my nerves under control again and sitting perfectly still with the glass glued to my eyes watched the animal intently as it made its way slowly towards me [...]

I ignored the Ducks - my gun - everything but the huge beast on which the glass was leveled and which was now within less than 200 yards. As he turned his sides towards me they looked cool and black and once or twice they seemed to glisten when the light from the west glanced on them [...]

He advanced, as I have already said, very slowly rarely taking more than ten or a dozen steps without pausing to rest and to look about him and the manner in which he raised and put down his feet - stiffly, laboriously and with evident caution - suggested most vividly the heavy cart horse on treacherous ground.

Nor would a cart house - or an elephant for that matter - have appeared be me more out of keeping with the surroundings than did this Moose [...] He seemed like some long-forgotten antedeluvian creature which, arousing from a sleep of thousands of years, was wandering aimlessly about in a land so changed that it no longer had any place for such strange monsters.

Pen and ink outline of the moose, surrounded by Brewster's handwritten notes.

Sketched outline of the moose from Brewster's notes. (Field notes of William Brewster, 1896.)

This passage is more narrative than his notes usually are: he really takes the time to tell the story of how he followed the moose through the marsh, and the excited chills and shaking are also very uncharacteristic details. It’s also an amusing read because, veteran naturalist though he is, he loses his senses a bit and finds himself accidentally getting much too close for comfort a couple of times.

Paddling hard yet cautiously I soon reached the bushes and to my delight found that [...] he was scarce sixty yards beyond them & still making his way across the open meadow. But when he discovered me and turning advanced straight towards me I began to think that my success in approaching him was possibly not a matter for self congratulation. This impression deepened as, without once pausing or hesitating, he came steadily on. When he finally stopped I judged him to be within twenty yards but on pacing the distance next day we found it to be just thirty-two yards.

Later, following the moose across the lake, he paddled so quickly that he nearly had a fender-bender when the moose stopped in the middle of the water.

After talking to his local guide, Brewster found that the moose he’d seen was a "fairly large" female. He concluded, “If she was not really a very large one I have no wish to be equally near to a big bull!”

See the full entry for August 27th, 1896 here on BHL.

This post is part of a series on the collection of ornithologist William Brewster (1851-1919) at the Ernst Mayr Library, written by Elizabeth Meyer, library project assistant.