Crossing paths

Russell
Russell Wangersky
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Four, three and countless. That’s the score from Sunday, after spending just a couple of hours on a river on the North Harbour Road.

But first, to back up a bit.

After last week’s rains, the barrens bogs are alive again; alive with seeping, running water, alive with new virtually-overnight-arriving wildflowers, alive with a second summer hungry crop of blackflies eager to make your acquaintance.

The flowers alone are worth the trip. It’s been dead-dry for most of July in a good part of the province, and in places like Conception Bay North, the bogs baked dry and put on their fall colours early.

A few days of heavy rain, and there’s been a rebirth; several spots I saw this weekend were awash with flowers, and down past North Harbour (often damper with southerly winds), the bog was astounding.

The flies would have done justice to June: up your nose, in your ears, holding above your head in a shadowy cloud blown just offshore of your face by the breeze. Thick enough to wear.

They weren’t the only things that were thick, though.

Back to four, three and countless.

I saw four moose at a distance as I headed down the river, almost all of them along the edges of open bog, alert and watching.

I also came upon three spots where something moose-sized had been settled, big ovals of flattened grass and flowers, recent enough to make you look around sharply and ask yourself if you could have startled them and just not heard them.

The countless?

No, not the flies.

The moose tracks and, well, the piles of droppings.

It reminded me of last summer, around this time, when I was up on sharp terrain behind Rattling Brook at the foot of Green Bay.

There, I would have thought the ground to be far from amenable to a big herbivore, but the place was laced with tracks.

The sheer number of criss-crossing paths made you feel like you should always be looking over your shoulder, at least until you break out into the blueberries and rock shoulders at the top where the falls goes over the edge and just keeps falling.

I’ve seen lots of signs of moose between North Harbour and Branch over the years — it’s a kind of terrain they like, lots to eat, plenty of places to hunker down. But this year, every turn, every step was a trail with new, fresh hoofprints — all sizes, so there clearly are young moose, too.

There’s been some suggestion that the moose population is falling from a decade or so ago — that the non-native animals might have eaten themselves out of house and home in some places, and that new predators, like the coyote, might be reducing the number of young moose.

That might be the case overall.

But there are clearly other areas where the moose is doing better than ever.

What’s it matter if you’re not a moose hunter or if you’re not out walking a river in a tsunami of fresh-hatched blackflies?

Well, many of the tracks I followed were heading from the river to high ground.

Up through the river-edged peat seeps, across the bog, through the scruff of ragged windswept hardy spruce — and straight across the highway. I’m betting they didn’t look both ways.

Think of it this way: I knew I was surrounded by flies, but, as I struggled up through the rain-sopped bog, I still managed to breathe in four or five, an uncomfortable tickling-on-the-inside experience that ends with a bout of coughing.

Drive safe.

You don’t know where there might be an abundance of moose, and they don’t care.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s news editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: North Harbour and Branch

Geographic location: Rattling Brook, Green Bay

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