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10 october 2011

I have never seen a moose. American zoos I've visited don't keep them. (It's too warm.) And I've never seen a moose in the wild. I am damn glad of that, frankly. When I announced that I was going to spend a week driving around the back roads of Maine earlier this year, my northern friends were full of advice about how to avoid moose. Or rather, how best to hit them once it became unavoidable. On the whole, this didn't make me very relaxed about visiting Maine.

But in the end, my week in the woods was moose-free. The moose is such a ubiquitous symbol in North America, though, that I had to reflect in puzzlement, while reading Kevin Jackson's Moose, on how I'd never actually seen a moose in person. Whales, that's understandable: you don't really cross their paths very often. But moose walk among us, at least north of a certain latitude. One thinks they'd be more evident.

But as Jackson discusses, moose are very timid creatures. They are in effect big deer, and they've never been plentiful enough to acquire the brazenness that some deer can exhibit in the suburbs. Moose-viewing tourism is a big draw in Maine because you can't just spot a few moose at sunrise on the outskirts of Bangor. They may well be nearby, but they are not going to take a chance on you seeing them.

Encounters with moose are therefore tinged with the special nature of the truly Other. Jackson describes one of his own to start the book, a serendipitous moose-meeting after a day spent deliberately in search of moose. He ends his book with a reading of Elizabeth Bishop's great poem "The Moose." Moose begins and ends in awe.

Along the way, we are treated to natural history, a small portion of myth, some art, and a generous helping of Bullwinkle. Kevin Jackson has more of a lifelong connection to moose, as fancier and collector, than most authors in the Reaktion Animal series have to their target creatures. The result is a highly entertaining, personable exploration of a thoroughly likable beast.

Jackson, Kevin. Moose. London: Reaktion, 2008.