Sunday, June 28, 2009

Looking for Moose

There may be no power lines or other signs of civilization along the almost 30 miles of "moose alley" between New Hampshire's northernmost town and the Canadian border, but as you can see from this picture, there are moose!

By the time the Great Moose Quest of 2009 ended, we'd sighted four of these magnificent AND HUGE creatures in the wild, deer, a baby fox and assorted other forest creatures -- and enjoyed other highlights of the Great North Woods aka the North Country (see below).

We reached "moose alley" around dusk, said to be prime moose watching time, after a gourmet meal lakeside in Pittsburg. At 291 square miles, Pittsburg is NH's largest municipality but home to only about 800 people -- except in summer and snow-mobiling season, when the weather can dip to 42 degrees below zero. It's also the nation's only town to border Maine, Vermont -- and Canada.

As Husband No. 1 slowly drove us along nearly deserted Route 3, No. 2 son, Buddy the Dog and I scanned the woods for moose, knowing they like to hang around swampy and salty areas. We were soon rewarded with two sightings. Once the sun went down, however, as Husband No. 1 noted, we no longer were looking for moose -- we were looking OUT for them. That isn't easy in an area with no lighting. And it was a concern because we've seen enough "Brake for Moose" signs to know there are roughly 250 moose-related accidents in NH each year, many resulting in injuries or death to drivers and passengers. That wasn't the kind of close encounter we were hoping for on this adventure.

Did you know that an adult moose is North America's largest wild animal? Now that I've seen one, I believe it. They average 1,000 pounds and stand 6 feet at the shoulder, plus they have really big heads. They reportedly have keen senses of smell and hearing, but are near-sighted, which may explain why they didn't blink when we lifted the camera. They look a little odd, though, because their front legs are longer than their hind legs, which helps them jump over fallen trees.

The next day, we saw two more moose, including this one standing along the thick spruce and fir forest of Thirteen Mile Woods between Errol and Berlin, NH. We heeded the advice of "don't count on moose stopping for you as they are very unpredictable" and pulled over. The moose walked by only a few feet away but I was too rattled to take the photo. Later, we spotted another moose in the woods and sent the teenager after that shot, figuring he could run the fastest if there was a problem. Apparently a moose that decides someone has crossed into its "personal space" will knock down the offender and kick and stomp until the threat stops moving. Fortunately, it wasn't rutting season and there were no calves around, so our moose mostly looked bored. Or maybe they were just stunned by our attire.

Our trip also included a stop at the 45th Parallel marking the halfway point between the Equator and North Pole. And we saw the Nansen Ski Jump built in 1935 near Berlin, NH, for Olympic training and still one of the largest in the country.

Our motel was located across the road from the 15-acre Shrine of Our Lady of Grace outside Colebrook, NH. Lights illuminated the shrine at night, including color distinctions for the sections of the rosary laid out in stones. There's also a granite sculpture of "Motorcyclists in Prayer," which as No. 2 son observed, isn't something you normally expect to find at religious sites.

The trip also included a stop at the luxurious and historic Balsams Grand Resort, but not to rub elbows with the hotel guests. We wanted to see where every 4 years, the 20 or so residents of tiny Dixville Notch stay up past midnight to cast the first vote in the nation's presidential primary election. The room is filled with political memorabilia, though the photos show it was mostly wives of some of the presidential candidates -- rather than the men running -- who campaigned there before the vote. Fortunately, most lost. Anyone who isn't tough enough for a trip to the North Country wouldn't have made a good president anyway.

Now that my moose quest has been a success, I'm giving thought to my next goal. What about you -- what's your mission for 2009?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Moose & Misc.

By the time you read this, I will be on my way to the Great North Woods of New Hampshire to fulfill my goal of seeing a moose in the wild in 2009. I don't know whose job it is to do the counting, but there are an estimated 7,000 moose in that region. Surely we can find one of them.

Just in case, Husband No. 1 snapped my picture in front of what he also hoped was a reasonable facsimile that might prompt me to abandon my quest. It did not.

Our drive will take at least 4 hours and we will be farther north than some of the points where the US borders Canada. "We” includes Husband No. 1, No. 2 son and Buddy the dog. You might wonder how I "persuaded" the nearly 19-year-old and my long-suffering husband to make a trek that, as he notes, will take the same amount of time as traveling to Times Square “so maybe we should go there instead.”

Birthday guilt. It took a few years to figure out I could bargain for an adventure primarily of interest to me by assuring my family that the only gift I really wanted was their company. That’s why the teenager actually spent a day with us on Monhegan Island 10 miles off the coast of Maine two years ago – and my landlubber native Kansan husband forced himself to board the boat taking us there. Last year, the destination was midcoast Maine to stand in line for over an hour for the famous fried clams and lobster rolls at Red’s Eats takeout in Wiscasset. (No. 2 son opted for a gift instead.)

This year, it’s the moose. And since I didn’t win the $250 in the weight-loss contest (see previous blog entry), it's both a birthday guilt AND pity trip. (There were rumors the victor starved herself for days and packed lighter clothing to weigh-in without undergarments. I only wish I’d thought of that myself.)

High-Speed Driving
Ironically, No. 1 son, aka the Cop In Training, was certified to use laser equipment for traffic enforcement last week. Undoubtedly his driving record made him much more familiar with the process than most of his classmates.

During an earlier high-speed driving unit, the instructor asked if he’d taken the course before because No. 1 son seemed to be handling the car with such ease. “Negative,” my son replied. But when he successfully maintained control after sliding sideways through the orange cones, the instructor insisted, “Are you sure you haven’t taken this course before?”

“No, sir,” replied No. 1. “I’m from New England. I've had years of practice fishtailing in the snow.”

I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry. But, as a co-worker noted, perhaps all those traffic fines can now be considered “educational expenses.”

No Bodies PLEASE!
This may seem like an odd prayer from a crime writer, but I did utter it last week when digging began for the foundation of a firefighter monument project I’m involved with at my day job.

I was especially concerned because a few years ago, road crews unexpectedly discovered an unmarked slave cemetery about a block away. This led to a campaign to build an appropriate memorial to mark the site. But when digging began for that foundation, the backhoe encountered more human remains. The project is now stalled.

So I crossed my fingers, held my breath and uttered a plea for "no bodies please" as work crews began excavation for my project. The area was fairly small and yet they encountered enough unexpected things to call in an archaeologist numerous times -- pottery, a stone foundation, and yes, you guessed it, bones. Fortunately, the archaeologist determined they belonged to an animal so my prayer was answered after all.

Neighborhood Blog
My neighborhood now has a blog, courtesy of the local newspaper. It’s an experiment and if successful, other neighborhoods will be urged to launch their own. According to the newspaper, people are most interested in what impacts their neighborhood and since the newspaper doesn't have enough reporters to cover every one of them, a blog might be a good alternative.

I’ve signed up to be a "blog administrator," which I figure is the optimum position. That way I can remove any nasty comments about our lawn care regime or how and when Buddy takes Husband No. 1 for a walk. It also will provide me with an opportunity to remind my neighbors that Christmas decorations really ought to be removed by March, as well as make any other pronouncements I've been anxious to share with them.

Imagine the possibilities.....

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Miles for a Moose

I’ve walked the equivalent of 900,000 steps – or 450 miles -- over the past 10 weeks. But I didn’t strap on a pedometer every day since April 7 just to improve my health -- I wanted the money.

However, when the dust settles on Tuesday, I won’t have logged the most steps or likely lost the largest percentage of weight in the 10-week “friendly” competition at my workplace. I am not a good loser so there’s nothing "friendly" about it as far as I'm concerned, although I must (reluctantly) admit my pedometer did inspire more exercise.

Every spring, my employer launches some sort of a multi-week “get healthy” program for its employees (supported by a grant, not local taxpayers). This year, teams (mine is the Stepsisters) used pedometers to record steps and report the totals every week (yes, it’s the honor system) while those in the weight-loss contest stepped on a scale monitored by a physician. Individual winners get $250 and winning teams get $100 per member.

I figured $250 would buy me a night in northern New Hampshire to fulfill my 2009 goal of seeing a moose in the wild (don’t ask). Plus, repeating the word “moose” might inspire me to keep walking and successfully pass up dessert. Unfortunately, I didn't realize how much it would remind me of the chocolate variety.

Nonetheless, I began clipping the pedometer to my waistband each morning and periodically snapped it open to check my progress throughout the day. “Is that a pager or a diabetes monitor?” a fellow partygoer asked one evening. “Yep,” I said and walked away. After all, one must seize any opportunity to record additional steps.

Have you ever thought about how many steps you take in a day? If you try a pedometer, you’ll find:

  • Generally speaking you can count on 2,000 steps will equal one mile. But, depending upon your length of stride it might take 2,500 steps to equal 1 mile.
  • 10,000 steps should be considered 5 miles. (Is this a math problem?)
  • 200 steps is about one city block.
  • 9 holes of golf (no cart) equals about 8,000 steps.
  • Most people will get about 1,200 steps in 10 minutes (Yeah, right. Not in front of my TV.)

Here's what the experts say the daily total of steps means:

2,500 steps or less per day--VERY INACTIVE
2,501 - 5,000 steps per day--INACTIVE
5,001 - 7,500 steps per day--MODERATELY ACTIVE
7,501 - 10,000 steps per day--ACTIVE
Greater than 10,000 steps per day--VERY ACTIVE

I figured only "very active" would win. Fortunately for those of us who spend most of our day in front of a computer, there also was a chart to “convert” other physical activity to steps. Instead of wearing a pedometer while I vacuumed, for example, I could count 101 steps for every minute I pushed the machine. Grocery shopping (is this really an aerobic activity?) equalled 67 steps a minute. If I really wanted to ramp it up, playing squash earns 348 steps per minute and kickboxing and karate gets 290 steps a minute each. Any of those would probably kill me, so I decided to rely mostly on my feet and pure steps.

Then I saw the very high weekly totals recorded by my fellow employees. I was extremely suspicious of one co-worker, but he claimed he played five hours of tennis every Saturday (Singles tennis is worth 178 steps per minute and doubles equals 102). When I griped to Husband No. 1, he suggested I could get the same totals by standing on empty tennis court with a racquet in my hand for five hours. To keep myself from dying of boredom, I could mentally calculate how much my numbers would rise. My grumbling got louder.

It became a dull roar when I saw the steps racked up by folks already active in their daily jobs. A Recreation Department employee could earn 100 steps per minute, or 4500 points, for each 45-minute yoga class. You can guess which department’s team soon stepped so far ahead no one could catch them – and they were getting paid for it, too.

So I turned my attention to weight loss, but there was a slight problem there, as well. While percentage of weight loss, rather than pounds gone, took into consideration that men lose weight more easily than women, the skinnier girls had an advantage over the more “Rubenesque” like myself. Nonetheless, I had advanced to third place by week 6. Since No. 2 worked for the Rec Department, I figured she wouldn’t/couldn’t let up on exercise, so I asked about her food weakness. She just smiled.

Then I set my sights on the leader, who works in the department administering the program. I tried to persuade her to disqualify herself. Then I suggested she go out to eat more often. It was beginning to look hopeless. Drastic action was required. The moose were calling so I did the only thing I could think of:

I sent her chocolates via inter-office mail.

How many extra steps do you think I can claim for "attempted sabotage"?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Larger Than Life Character

Sometimes in this life you’re fortunate to meet people with such interesting histories, personalities and idiosyncrasies that any fiction writer creating such characters would be told they were too improbable to ever be believed.

A. Preston McGraw was one of those people.

When I learned last week that “Mac” had died in a Texas nursing home at the age of 94, it brought back many memories of a newsman who not only covered history, he became part of it.

The story goes that Mac was assigned to cover Lee Harvey Oswald’s graveside service in Dallas, which ironically took place on the same day that the man he assassinated, President John F. Kennedy, was being buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The only people at Oswald’s graveside were the reporters, federal agents, police, and five members of the Oswald family.

The funeral director said Oswald couldn’t be buried unless there were volunteers to be pallbearers. Mac felt sorry for the family and thought that if he stepped forward, he’d get better access to Oswald's widow – and better quotes for his story. That didn’t happen, but Mac did earn his place in history.

I first met Mac when I joined United Press International, then the world’s second-largest wire service, over three decades ago in the news agency’s Dallas bureau. He was in his ‘60s then, nearing retirement as he worked the radio side, providing news briefs to be read on air by broadcasters in a nine-state region of the Southwest. I knew immediately that the man was a character.

He called just about everyone “sport” and when he answered the telephone, he spoke in such a slow southern drawl that he stretched out the initials U-P-I longer than it took to spell the words in their entirety—at least twice. His laugh, which was really more of a loud cackle, was unforgettable and when it roared through the newsroom, we knew a hilarious story was coming.

Mac especially loved weird and unusual news stories and none was stranger than the tale of Leroy Laffoon. No one who heard him tell the story could ever forgot it.

Here it is in its briefest form: Leroy Laffoon returned to his trailer outside Fort Worth, Texas, one day to find it had been ransacked and his dog had been killed. Leroy suspected the culprits were two prostitutes who hated his dog. Leroy decided to get even. He put the dog’s body in the freezer for an undetermined amount of time, tracked down the whores and then beat them to death with his frozen dog.

It is a story of an unusaul, but oddly satisfying, sort of justice. Mac loved the Leroy Laffoon story. So did every reporter who heard it from him. When news spread last week that Mac had gone to the big newsroom in the sky, versions of the Leroy Laffoon tale were recounted once again in Mac’s name.

He would have loved that.