TITLE: Joshua's Pet Moose
By Flora Sawyer
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JOSHUA'S PET MOOSE
(Based on an actual incident in early Maine history)
By Flora Jackson Sawyer
“Oh, Father, I hope his leg isn't broken,” cried ten-year-old Joshua Thorndike as he leaped over the side of the two-masted coaster, into the small skiff that had been lowered to the ocean.
Joshua and Ebenezer, his father, were on a trading trip up the coast of Penobscot Bay in what is now Maine. There were several other men on board, having their muskets ready in the event of seeing wild *game which they could salt down and preserve for their family's use. Joshua loved these expeditions on a summer day, in spite of the hard work and sweat. He enjoyed hoisting the sails and even scrubbing down the deck at the end of the day, but today he was faced with an insurmountable problem – actually the worst problem in all of his ten years. He blamed himself for what had happened – and it was his fault.
“Those things just happen.” His father had said. “You just have to get on with life.”
But it wasn't that easy. He felt like the end of the world had come – at least the end to his world. The morning had started out fine as they loaded the things they were going to trade and and got underway at four A.M. … but now, as he lay on his straw mat in the hold of the coaster, he felt it would be almost sacrilegious to keep right on working as though nothing at all had happened. He didn't want to forget, for one moment. He lay very still on his mat so his father would think he was asleep. No, I will never forget him! Bursting into tears, he thought again of what had happened.
It was early summer around 1760. Ebenezer Thorndike had staked a 600-acre claim on both banks of the George's River in the “Lower Town” at the mouth of the Wessaweskeag, an expansive marsh between what are now Thomaston and St. George, Maine. Ten-year-old Joshua had built up muscles helping his father work the land. It was hard work felling trees, hauling stumps, and *picking rocks which they stacked into two-foot high walls around the fields. Plowing and cultivating garden plots, and planting and harvesting on the Matinic, which his father had purchased from Indians in the area, was hard work, too. He loved to work beside his father in the great outdoors. He felt proud and important. The whole family joined them at times, traveling by wagon or boat from Cape Elisabeth. He was glad they would build a home near the ocean someday. Then they could all be together again – all the time. The smell of pine and tangy salt air were what he was used to. By now their major source of income was fish. Dried Fish. Ebenezer had opened a fishery and a salt business on the mainland. Salt was harvested from ocean water by boiling it down in huge vats on an open fire. They caught Salmon - salting it and spreading it out on wooden racks to dry in the open sun. The dried fish would be sold to people on the mainland or taken to the Boston Market in the coaster his father had built him.
On the very first day of their trip up the coast as they carried barrels of salt, salt fish, and other items north to trade, Joshua and the rest of the crew had kept their eyes glued to the rocky shoreline, hoping to catch sight of deer or moose, or even wolves that were sometimes seen on the shore. They carried as little as possible besides their cargo aboard the small coaster, so they would have room for
whatever game they might *bag.
“Pa! Look ! Over there!”
Joshua had been the first to see him – a newborn moose-calf trying to scale a rocky promontory not far from the shore. As they all watched entranced, a gigantic sow appeared at the edge of the deep woods. She spotted the boat. Scenting danger, her legs stiffened; her short tail flew into the air, and her large ears bent forward. With a shrill scream to warn her baby, she turned and ran into the forest. The young calf trembled, struggling to keep his balance. Fearful to climb over the moss-covered ledge, he turned quickly to cross a sandbar, stepped in a waterhole and fell flat on his big overgrown nose! He lay there stunned, and bleating for his mother. Joshua and the men watched. They were sure the sow would appear again at any moment. The sow did not come.
“Oh, Pa, hurry! exclaimed Joshua. We must help him. He may have broken his leg when he stepped in that water hole.”
“I don't know, Joshua, it could be real dangerous. That sow is probably nearby, and they are nothing to deal with when they're protecting their young.
“Please, Pa.” “Pleeeze.”
Ebenezer ordered one of the men to heave the anchor overboard. The skiff would have to be
used to go ashore on this rocky coastline. Joshua and his father climbed down the rope ladder.
“Aaahh!” Joshua missed the last rung and fell. The young moose was bleating loudly and trying desperately to get to his feet. Ignoring the cold water, Joshua stood up and started toward shore.
Joshua plugged his ears and closed his eyes, opening them just in time to see the huge sow fall with a thunderous crash barely three yards from where he stood.
“Oh no, Father, is she dead? Now he'll really be in trouble without his mother. Oh, may I keep him, Father? I think he has a broken leg. May I? May I? I'll take good care of him, I really will, I promise. I'll give him warm milk and find some nice soft gray moss and …”
“Hold on, Son, I know you mean well, but this is no puppy, you know. He's huge,and *gaumy (colloquialism)and … well … wild!”
“Oh Pa, he's not wild. I mean, I know what you mean, but he's so scared, and he's not gaumy … he's … he's beautiful!'
“Well, I don't know … .” “Ebenezer was in a *quandary – if they didn't take the calf with them, the only other thing to do would be to shoot it because otherwise he would be *preyed upon by coyotes or a Lynx or some other wild animal – and how could he shoot him with Joshua watching? He regretted even going ashore now, but it was too late to think about that.
“Please, Pa? Mother will help me. Remember how she took care of that baby fox one time?” Joshua refused to give up. He was kneeling beside the calf now, gingerly reaching to pet its large, silky
ears as it lay it struggled to get up. “'We won't need to bother you and I promise I won't slack on my work. I'll even get up earlier and do the milking morning and night – not just night. I could save a little milk out each time and soak a nice clean rag in it and let him suck on it – it would be just like Bo does when he gets it from Susie. “ Bo was a handsome year-old bull calf which Joshua had given up hope of being his someday. So far his father had never answered him when he got up the courage to ask about it. He would always say, “We'll see.” Oh how Joshua hated that expression. He didn't understand why his parents couldn't just make up their minds and give him a direct answer about things. Why didn't they understand how badly he wanted to know?
Oh, father, please … now his mother is dead, and … and … a mist was gathering in Joshua's eyes. “Dear God, Please let him say yes,” he prayed silently. He had never wanted anything so bad in his life.
“Oh, all right, Joshua, but mind you, if we have any trouble with him – any trouble at all – we'll be having a nice meat stew boiling on the *hearth guicker'n the shake of a cat's tail!” Threatened Ebenezer.
Joshua smiled. He knew that gruff voice was just a cover-up for a soft heart. His father could no more kill a baby moose and eat it than he could. He had watched his father take care of Bo, when he was born and nursed his mother, Susie, back to health. Suzie was a prize cow and Bo would be a champion sire someday.
That brought everything back to him again. How funny the calf had looked tied fore and aft with a piece of fishermen's rope and hoisted aboard the Coaster. He had wondered why the calf didn't
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squeal or holler as he flew through the air. Maybe he knew I was trying to help him, he thought happily. But maybe he was just plain too scared! The minute his sharp hooves hit the deck he had began to bleat and squirm. What a time they had had trying to untie him. And as soon as he was free from the rope he began to buck. Joshua had reached out toward him slowly.
“Please don't be so anxious, we are only trying to help you.”
How well he remembered now the *exquisite softness of those velvety ears. They just made you want to keep stroking them forever. Somehow it made the moose calf quieter, too. “I'm going to call you Gaumy, he had said, Father was right, you are homely, but you're so soft and ... and … I love you.” Joshua had been surprised to hear himself say that. Now, as he lay on the hard straw mat, he realized it had been the first time he'd ever said those words to anyone. It had felt good – like eating custard pie or squirting warm milk into his mouth as he filled the pail – just – smooth, and comfortable and good!
“We are going to be such good friends, you and me.” And at that very moment,Gaumy had nudged Joshua's knee with his broad quivering nose.
But now – why? Oh, why? The tears flowed once more as he lay there punishing himself for his own shameless neglect. Trying to brush them off his plaid flannel shirt, he turned over so no one would see them. He didn't want to think about that part, but how could he forget it? He knew he should talk to God about it – he couldn't talk to anyone else about how he felt – they just wouldn't understand. That's what his father had taught him; that God cared about such things, but this was the hardest thing he'd ever faced – even worse than coming to this faraway place and working so hard that Flora Sawyer 7
sometimes he would fall into bed at night without even taking his clothes off. How he wished he were at home – in Cape Elisabeth - up in the loft over the kitchen. He never wanted to face anyone again. He could see mother now, bent over the iron kettle on the hearth, shaking her head and saying, “ I don't know about you, Joshua, you should have known better,” as though that were going to help somehow. And his five-year-old brother Ben – always wanting to copy him – looking at him with questioning eyes.
Soon mother would be putting Lydia, his baby sister, for a nap in the *trundle bed that was kept under their parent's log bed. It comforted him to picture his grandmother sitting at the huge spinning wheel in the corner not far from the fireplace. But -- oh no, his grandmother would know what he'd done, too. He wished that he and his father had stayed back with the family in Cape Elisabeth -- his father sitting in the rocking chair he'd fashioned himself, the old Family Bible on the stand beside him; that he was back sitting at their long, rough-hewn trestle table eating corn cakes and molasses. Oh, life was just unbearable! Pa'll have to do the praying this time.
The rest of the trip was crowding into his mind now. The last leg of their trip home.
“Time to head 'er home,”his father had shouted to the men, though they hadn't taken too much in trade – some Northern Pine, Ash and Cedar and a small barrel of pine pitch. They at least had the sow Ebenezer had shot. They had salted the meat down, Then put it into a barrel with salt between the layers. It would provide meat for the family for a long time.
As they sailed southward, one of the men spotted some deer near the edge of the woods. The Flora Sawyer 8
weather had turned unbearably hot as it often did in the summer months and the deer were feeding on moss in the shade of the pine and hemlock trees . It was no cooler on the coaster. Each day Joshua had made sure Gaumy was under the *tarp his father had helped him stretch across one end of the coaster. He always left plenty of water – even giving up some of his own portion for the day.
Suddenly, Josh and Ebenezer raised their muskets *simultaneously.
POW!! POW!! Two bucks dropped to the ground.
“We did it, Pa! Two of 'em.” They rowed ashore once more, skinned the deer and hung them from two trees to *dress them out. Until then Josh had always watched as his father split the skin with his sharp knife just as he had the sow three days before. But on this trip he was learning a lot more than business of trade. The sun had fallen behind the trees toward the west.
Suddenly, Joshua yelled,.
“Pa! Pa!! Gaumy! I forgot Gaumy! I was feeding him when Ross spotted the deer. I ran to get my musket and I forgot to put the tarp back. Oh, Pa, hurry!” Ebenezer and Joshua climbed into the skiff and headed toward the coaster. Joshua jumped out of the skiff and up the rope ladder three rungs at a time.
“Gaumy, Gaumy! He ran to the baby calf. Gaumy didn't move. Gaumy! Joshua stroked the soft ears. Gaumy. Wake up! Wake up! “Oh, Gaumy, how could I have forgotten you. Oh, why did I leave you? It was too hot to leave you without the tarp.” Great tears were falling on Gaumy's *tawny head Gaumy didn't respond.
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“Come, Josh. He's gone. God knows best.” Ebenezer pulled him gently away. Blinded by tears, Josh yanked himself from his father's grasp and ran to the hold. He had not been there for three days choosing to stay close to Gaumy to keep him warm during those cool nights on the ocean. Throwing himself down on his straw mat, he cried brokenheartedly until at last he fell asleep from sheer exhaustion.
“Joshua, Joshua, wake up, I've called you three times.”
His father's voice broke into his sad dream – no, it wasn't a dream, Gaumy was really dead.
“C'mon Joshua, it's ten o'clock and we're almost home. There'll be a lot to do when we get there. Can't expect the neighbors to be watching the plantings and caring for the livestock for too long – they have their own responsibilities. C'mon now, lets get going.”
Joshua climbed to the deck. He splashed cold water from an iron pail onto his face, and looked around. Nothing. Pa took care of him, he thought. I'm glad. He was still in his overalls and shirt and suddenly realized that his father must have also removed his heavy wet boots as he slept. He found them in the sun beside the first *boom, dry as a bone.
“Thanks, Pa,” he said, looking straight at his father for the first time.
“Sure, Son. By the way, he said, ruffling Joshua's tousled hair, I think it's about time I let you in on a little secret Ma and I have been keeping. We were going to wait till your twelfth birthday, but we think you've proved yourself here in the last year as a hard and willing worker. How'd you like to have
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Bo for your own and start that “champion herd' we've been talkin' about?
Joshua ran into his father's arms. “You mean it, Pa? You really mean it? He's going to be mine – only mine – no one else's?”
“Only yours, Joshua, but mind you, it'll be a heap o' work on top of the gardens, and loggin' and all. Won't be so much time for tree climbin' and butterfly chasin', he teased. “Think you can handle it?”
“Oh pa, you know I can. I aim to be the best cattle raiser in the country! What time do you think we'll get home, Pa?”
Oh Jes' b'fore dark, I'm thinkin', and I wouldn't be surprised if Ol' Bo'll be right there a'waitin”for ya.
Joshua looked toward the starlit heavens. Yes, Pa did do the praying and God had answered.
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