Travels in Rural America
“Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.”
—Henry David Thoreau
Eastern Moose [Alces alces] on the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park in New Brunswick, Canada. This species is common in eastern Canada, in the Atlantic provinces and in the northeastern U.S.
Photo Credit: Martin Cathrae; July 23, 2006
We were driving in rural New Hampshire on Highway 28—a few minutes from our home in Center Barnstead, 30 minutes outside Concord the state capital. There, we had picked up our 13-year-old daughter from summer camp, and during the car ride she was recounting with enthusiasm and much laughter her camp experiences. I remember hearing a loud noise and then briefly lost consciousness. Blackness followed by Silence. A Lacuna in Time. When I awoke, I heard sirens and saw all kinds of emergency vehicles around us. My mental faculties were foggy; I didn't understand what was taking place. After what seemed like minutes, I looked around and saw that my family was all right, uninjured.
I struggled to unbuckle the seat-belt and open the door, all the while yelling to my family to do the same. I knew, thought, it was important to get out of the car, and for them to do likewise. I, we, walked around in a trance and witnessed a moose on the side of the road, quivering involuntarily. I turned away, somehow knowing that something unnatural had just taken place. My daughter was sad, shaken.
Even so, the facts are clear. On July 20, 2003, around 9 p.m. as the sun was setting low over the horizon, our compact car hit a male moose (Alces alces) on a road in rural New Hampshire, less than two miles from our house. My family—wife, two children, including an 18-month baby boy, and I—the four humans in the car all survived without too much injury. The front and back windows both shattered on impact with the moose, who had his legs swept from under him by the car’s bumper, lifting him off the ground for a brief moment and forcing him to land centrally between my wife and me on our car roof, before he somehow bounded off to the side of the highway— a deep dent the lasting and the most-visual evidence of his unintended and unfortunate visit with our vehicle.
A foot or two in either direction and one of us wouldn’t have survived. Despite tiny shards of glass flying in all directions, our male son, then a toddler, safely buckled in his car seat, sustained no injuries, not even a superficial scratch. Words like miracle naturally came to mind; I couldn’t explain it any other way other than luck. The car, a two-year-old Toyota Corolla, was a write-off. The emergency crews on the scene responded wonderfully, professionally and yet with generous amounts of compassion. As was the custom, they also divvied up the meat from the now-dead animal. [They asked us first, but we declined for a number of reasons.]
Growing up in an urban area, Montreal, I had never considered the possibility of ever encountering a moose on a highway, let alone hitting one. The experience was traumatic on many levels, including the idea of killing another sentient being. After getting out of the damaged vehicle, we made our way to the side of the highway where we witnessed the quavering moose, an unfortunate victim, take his last breath. Despite our slight injuries, the scene was heart-breaking. An animal paid the ultimate price through no fault of his own.
There are 250 moose-vehicle collisions in New Hampshire each year. There is not much a driver can do other than be aware and alert that moose cross highways in certain areas and at certain times during the year, notably between April and November and during dawn and dusk in search of food. There are highway signs attesting to this fact—Brake for Moose. It Could Save Your Life— and truly they are posted for a reason.
In the collision with the 1,000-pound (454-kilogram) moose, I was the one who suffered the greatest injury, although it was much less than what it could have been considering the speed of the impact and the effect of Newtonian physics. I was pulling fragments of glass out of my scalp for a few weeks, and embedded in my left hand were three or four tiny fragments of glass from the shattered front windshield; these remained just under my skin for years until I finally was able to extract them. More important and more urgent was that I also had pain in my lower back.
On the recommendation of someone, a neighbour, I visited a chiropractor in Concord, NH, which was a learning experience in itself. After performing a few tests, which included tapping my head (a type of phrenology) and my back, the chiropractor, an avuncular man in his late fifties, pronounced that I would need intensive sessions, “at least three times a week for the next two or three months, and then we can evaluate your progress from there.” When I asked him if he could take X-rays with his machine, which I noted was nearby, he said it was broken, and he didn’t need it anyway to make an accurate diagnosis. He had his experience and “professional judgment,” as he explained it.
Here is how the rest of the conversation went:
I said, “In September, we have plans to fly to California, which is less than two months away.”
“I wouldn’t recommend that,” the chiro said. “In about six weeks, you will be in extreme pain.”
“That's precisely when we are taking an airplane trip”
“I wouldn't go; you need intense therapy, at least three times a week.”
“I have to go; we made plans; we have tickets and booked a hotel.”
“That would be a bad idea; you'll be in extreme pain then. You can book the appointments up front.”
I looked at him and at the broken X-ray unit, and I knew then and there I was in the midst of a quack who believed in a type of phrenology and who had no problem instilling fear in patients—a method, I would guess, to better his business and support his ego. Even so, I had no plans to book an appointment.
My wife, who was waiting outside in the waiting room, took a look at my blanched face and saw I was upset. I relayed the conversation and we both agreed that I would never return to this chiropractor, nor any other. I found a massage therapist, again on recommendation, whom I went to once a week for a about six weeks. My back became increasingly better; by the time I took the airplane flight, I had no pain. The trip to California was generally a pleasure.
A version of this article was posted on Perry J. Greenbaum about a year ago. (August 20, 2012). If you travel in areas with moose populations, drive carefully.