January 29, 2020

Not Exactly the Moosehead Trail


Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

January 23, 2012 — We don’t see moose very often on this farm.  That’s not saying never.  In 28 years, we’ve probably seen half a dozen.  I love seeing wildlife.  Spying a moose always leaves me with a warm feeling.

Yesterday was a good example.

It was a beautiful winter day, clear and cold.  The sun sparkled from  millions of snowflakes.  Friday’s half foot of fresh snow reflected the deep blue sky overhead.

We were out early to walk the dogs.  “Why don’t we ski this afternoon?” my wife suggested.

I took a deep breath of fresh air.  “Great idea,” I agreed.  “Let me collect some wood this morning.  That way, the tractor can break a trail for us.”  Anybody who has ever cross-country skied knows what a difference that makes.

I fed the cows and opened the barn, considering which tractor I should use.  Of the several here, I usually use the crawler to collect firewood in the winter.  It’s a long, slow, cold ride but it takes tremendous depth of snow to stop it.  For cross-country skiing, the tracks it leaves behind are far better than breaking trail yourself, but that’s not saying they create ideal conditions.  The steel pads leave wide trails with rough and uneven surfaces.

I thought about that a moment.  This winter hasn’t given us much snow.  Further, what it has deposited has largely melted.  All except the last six or eight inches.  That being the case, the Cockshutt Model 30 can still get around nicely.  It flounders in deep snow.  The tire chains flail, the snow crunches and the machine jolts forward unsteadily.

But best of all, it has a narrow front end.  That is the two front tires are right beside each other, each angled in a bit for better steering.  Called a tricycle tractor, it’s a very maneuverable machine.  It will turn within its own length.  It’s great in the woods or at the end of a row.

I snapped my fingers.  “Those front tires will make a great skiing trail.”
I’m not often right.  Especially to this extent.  So it was with real satisfaction that my wife and I set out after lunch, skiing along the trail broken by the Model 30.  Conditions were ideal, fast and, once started, those tire tracks locked our skis into the exact route the tractor had taken, trapped by the 6-inch walls of snow on either side.  Perfect.  Temperatures had risen to the mid-20s.  The sun still shone brightly.  Further, I’d deliberately taken a roundabout path collecting wood so there was a nice long trail to follow.

With two dogs bounding along for company, Wendy and I  made great time beside Tay Road.  We sped up even more as the trail turned downhill toward the far end of the field and the woods.

Just before the trail crossed the brook, I’d turned the tractor west along the edge of the field, taking the scenic route to the logging track on the other side.  Immediately around the corner a moose stood in the path.  It looked up, startled.

The dogs barked excitedly and charged.

I jabbed my poles into the snow ahead of me, desperate to slow down.  My skis were still stuck in those tire ruts, a runaway railroad car on tracks.  I had just time to realize that if I’d used the crawler to break trail, I might have had room to maneuver.

As it was, I had a beautiful view of that moose.  Dead ahead. Coming up fast.
It took one look at me and turned to run.  It wasn’t stupid.  It ran where the running was easiest, right down that lovely, packed trail some tractor had made earlier.  It jettisoned all extra weight in large, steaming piles along the way in its haste to be gone.

I didn’t watch it go.  I eyed those piles instead.  Horror filled me.

That material provided the braking my poles could not.  In fact, my skis stopped immediately, right at the first pile.

I didn’t.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d landed in the snow.

I didn’t do that either.

I fell forward into the material that had so abruptly stopped my skis.  I lifted my head, horrified, desperately wiping my nose with my glove.

Just then Wendy came barreling around the corner, stuck in the same ruts that had trapped me.  She couldn’t stop either.  At least not until I stopped her. Literally.  I’d just picked my face out of that steaming pile when my wife shoved it in a second time, landing right on top of me.

Yes, it was still hot.

I told you that seeing a moose always leaves me with a warm feeling.