Against Bucket Lists: Moose Hunting in Norway
Someone asked me if I had a Bucket List. I don’t. I’ve said before that if you blow the cobwebs off the Ordinary, the Miraculous appears underneath in shimmering colours. In fact if my novels are about anything, it’s that. So I don’t have a hankering to climb Kilimanjaro, go bungee jumping in New Zealand or get a Brazilian wax whatever that is.
Though there have been adventures. During our travels my wife somehow persuaded me – in the middle of the night – to climb a rock overlooking the plains of Argos. We laid out our sleeping bags, fell asleep, and in the morning I blinked awake to find myself three inches from the edge of a windy precipice above a three-hundred -foot drop. Another time we went husky-sledging in Finland across a frozen lake with the pink sun rising. The dogs took off at speed and I couldn’t stop ‘em. Beautiful.
So it’s not that I’m averse to adventure. On the contrary. My wife has cousins in Norway, and in the summer before last we were offered a cabin in the Norwegian mountains for a month. Hard to say no, isn’t it? This logwood cabin overlooked a broad, glittering lake. It had a dropaway toilet and sawdust (now labelled “Eco”) and some antiquated skis in the attic. The lake was bilberry-blue; that is the kind of blue that suddenly gives way to immense dark depths. The air around was scented by impenetrable forests of giant pines and you had to strain the car in a low gear just to get up the mountain road leading to the cabin. It was a beautiful to go there with the savages and my only anxiety concerned the number of warning signs about the presence of moose in breeding season.
The moose is a dangerous creature. Proportionately more people get attacked in the woods by a moose than by bears and wolves put together. Dogs will often provoke them into charging, and since our dog Cassie is an honorary savage we’d taken her to Norway with us. If the moose is nursing its young it is likely to become extremely territorial. So when we walked in the woods, with or without the dog, I was pretty circumspect. There were other wild animals to think about, too. One time we stumbled across – right in the middle of the woodland path – a huge lynx trap. The hinged door to the trap seemed precariously balanced, poised on a visible snap-spring, and just the size of the thing was unnerving. It made you want to give it a wide berth.
After a couple of weeks, Sue’s cousin Siri and her husband Werner (who owned the cabin) came for the week-end to visit us and to bring supplies. Werner is profoundly deaf, but he can speak some English. He’s picked up most of his English from reading rather than hearing it spoken, and though his pronunciation is sometimes a little odd, he can make himself understood in English. We were standing outside the cabin when Werner asked me if I’d seen any moose around the place. I confessed that I hadn’t.
Scandinavian folk tend to have rather immobile faces. They don’t go in much for grinning and gurning and twisting their mouths and flashing their eyes and raising and lowering their eyebrows and all the other muscular facial contortions that we British find helpful. In fact when I’m in Scandinavia I find myself in the grip of a neurotic desire to still my face, just to fit in. I become conscious of what to a Scandinavian observer must look like a firework display going off in the visage. They tend to blink slowly and that’s about it. Otherwise not a flicker. Certainly not this coutenance of pyrotechnics we expressive British present to the world.
Anyway when he heard me say I’d seen no moose, he turned to me and blinked twice. I took this to be Norwegian for: ‘You surprise me.’
‘Many moose here,’ he said after a moment.
‘Yes. Many moose. This season I kill 17 moose.’
‘Seventeen? You killed seventeen moose?’
‘Yes. Too many moose here.’
I scratched my head. I didn’t even know he was a hunter. ‘Do you shoot them?’
He blinked at me again. He took quite a while to answer. ‘Shoot?’
‘Yes. Do you have a gun?’
There was another long pause as he figured out in English what he was going to say. ‘No gun. Trap. Trap moose.’
‘What, you trap them?’
‘Yeeeeeeeeeeessssssss,’ he said, as if I were slightly dull. ‘Trap. Then kill.’
Now I knew that moose steak is a highly prized dish in Norway. In fact I was up for sampling the odd moose meat ball or fickasee myself while I was in the country. But let me tell you that a single moose is a pretty hefty animal. You’d be lucky, even after slaughtering the creature and disposing of the antlers, to get a quarter moose in your freezer. I though if Werner was trapping and killing seventeen moose in one season he must be doing it on a commercial scale.
‘Isn’t it dangerous?’
There appeared at the corner of his Norwegian mouth just the ghost of the tiniest hint of the shadow of an incipient smirk. You know: well, you sissy English writers might think so, but it’s something every self-respecting Norwegian lad hereabouts does when he’s nine years old.
‘So you trap them and then you kill them?’ I asked. ‘How do you kill them?’
He took a deep breath, searched my no-doubt contorted face, and shrugged. All as if killing and slaughtering a giant moose was a mere bagatelle. ‘You want I show you?’ he said.
‘Show me the moose?’
He nodded. Well, here’s an opportunity I thought. Every writer should have at least one moose-hunt under his belt. Hemingway and all that. ‘Well. Right. Yes, okay. Hold on,’ I said, ‘I’ll get my jacket.’
I nipped inside the cabin, where I changed my shoes for some stout walking boots. I thought if I was going to be running away from a moose I don’t want to be wearing a pair of crocs. I also put on a thick jacket. Not that it would offer much resistance to being gored by a giant set of antlers, but anyway. ‘Where are you going?’ the savages wanted to know.’ ‘Just for a walk,’ I said. I didn’t want them coming with me. ‘Keep the dog here, will you?’
When I emerged from the cabin, now booted and jacketed, Werner looked hard at my footwear and my coat. He shook his head slightly, as if trying to flick away a fly that had been bothering him. ‘Come,’ he said.
He led me to the rear of the cabin. A narrow path ran between a grassy slope and the log wall. There Werner stopped and turned to me. ‘Here,’ he said.
I looked at him and he blinked. He pointed at the ground, at the blue shadow of the log wall. There, at six-feet intervals, were three or four mousetraps.
‘Oh,’ I said dumbly. ‘We’ve been talking about mice.’
He blinked at me again. ‘Many moose here.’
I went back inside and unlaced my boots. ‘That was a quick walk,’ remarked one of the savages.
Whereupon I returned her a proper “Norwegian” look.