Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Moose Crossing

“Everybody wants to see a moose—until they do and discover how big they are.” ~ Larry Roncaglione


I played hooky from writing for the last half of August because I’m doing active research. Here’s the story: On the 13th, two friends and I bought 200 acres of mixed forest with a half-mile of river running through it. The property is located 2.5 miles north of my home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The previous owners, two guys, used it for a hunting camp back in the day. One of them moved from the area, and they both now have families. The land has seen little use since they logged forty acres of quaking aspen in 2004. The logging roads are overgrown with 17-year-old tag alder, quaking aspen, tamarack, and black spruce, making it hard to explore.

There is no bridge across the river, but the purchase came with a beat-up canoe. About eighty acres lies on the other side of the river, which no one has logged in more than fifty years. When we explored the tract before purchasing it, we saw a lot of animal sign—especially moose—and found several places where the world’s largest ungulates cross the river. We named the property Moose Crossing to celebrate their passage.

My co-owners, who plan to get married next year, both work in Wisconsin and can only visit for weekends that they aren’t working. (One is a police officer in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and the other is a staff sergeant recruiter for the Wisconsin National Guard, so weekend work is common for them.) I’ve taken it upon myself to open the roads back up and add a few walking trails to access the more remote parts of the property where loggers haven’t left skidder trails. My plan is to surprise them with some visible progress before they return.

There is nothing magic about my process: I chainsaw down the larger growth, trying to cut the trunks as close to the ground as possible. By the time I run through a tank of gas, I’ve dulled the chain on the dirt and must install a freshly sharpened one. I trim the harvested aspen trees and set aside the poles for future use. To clear the tops, limbs, evergreens, and brush, I drag them off the road into the woods (making sure not to block any animal trails). With the larger diameter vegetation removed, I trim the smaller plants with a brush hog I pull behind my ATV. It’s hard work for an old man. And I love it.

While I’m working, I concentrate on the work—important because a slip of the chainsaw can spell disaster thirty miles from the nearest hospital with no one around to get me there. But when I take breaks and after I’ve finished work for the day, I relax. Any little breeze tickles the aspen leaves, sounding like a rain stick. I tick off the birds I hear: the drumming of a hairy woodpecker, the plaintive “Oh, Canada, Canada, Canada” of white-throated sparrows, the high-pitched tsee-tsee notes of golden-crowned kinglets, a distant pair of sandhill cranes’ rattling calls as they fly overhead, the explosion of a startled ruffed grouse, and the whirring wingbeats of woodcock.

Approaching the river, I hear bullfrogs croaking, the guttural growl of leopard frogs, and the rattle of dragonflies taking wing. I peer at a group of Joe Pye-Weed in full purple bloom entertaining at least four species of bees and wonder if I need another field guide. Standing quietly at the river’s edge I’ve observed a beaver swimming downstream, a fresh-cut tag alder branch in its mouth, and a duck paddling quietly around the bend leaving only a ripple in the water. Alder flycatchers call as they zip out from their perches to grab insects buzzing past. Most of the time, I don’t hear any other human activity, although if the wind is wrong, I can catch the distant thrum of logging machines working miles away.

I deploy two trail cameras to record critters that use the improved trails. So far that’s resulted in pictures of a wet black bear, a single coyote, a doe, a red fox, a cottontail rabbit, and the property’s namesakes: a bull moose sporting an impressive rack, and a cow moose with twins (a first for me). The wolf, whose tracks we’ve found, hasn’t yet triggered the cameras.

I return from each trip to Moose Crossing, tired, sweat-soaked, and charged with enthusiasm for living. If that isn’t grist for future writing, I don’t know what is. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.


James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree series. Full of mystery and suspense, these thrillers explore financial crimes, family relationships, and what happens when they mix. Furthermore, a novella is the most recent addition to the series. You can sign up for his newsletter and find more information about Jim and his books at