Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Menace of Moose Heads

Who, in this reading audience, hates moose and thinks they should die, should be wiped off the face of the Earth? (Sarah Palin, put your hand down.)

Moose aren’t typically seen as evil—they’re innocently goofy-looking, slow lumbering, vegetarian beasts. They’re even mildly cute in a gangly, too-big-for-their-own-good sort of way.

Think about Bullwinkle, and a certain sweetish, inexpensive Canadian beer. Consider how a fine rack of antlers may be a prized possession, handed down for generations. Maybe even imagine gulping down a steaming bowl of Moose Chili, stirred by Sarah herself, in her Wasilla kitchen (even though I’ve read that she doesn’t really cook).

Moose are associated with many reasonably good things, aren’t they?

I’m sure that if you’ve ever hit a moose with your car or been charged by a seven-foot-tall, three thousand pound moose during rutting season then okay, you might not think too charitably about moose.

Still, moose are not the natural enemies of people, nor our first, most hated creatures. Moose are not quite like snakes or sharks or even crocodiles.

But moose (especially moose heads on walls) are my ten-year-old daughter’s primary fear.

I’ll be honest: she has a short list of phobias, but most of them have to do with taxidermy, particularly stuffed heads of moose nailed to wooden plaques, staring down with brown, glassy eyes and bulbous (if velvety) noses.

I remember speaking with a psychic when my daughter was around two. My daughter has a very unusual name, but the psychic nearly guessed it (yes, without ever being told). Then she asked about moose.

“I see moose,” the psychic said, in a dreamy, monotone voice. “Lots of moose heads.”

I had no idea what this famous psychic was talking about. It sounded bizarre, implausible, and yet, it was so odd—moose heads? Wha?—that I didn’t discount it.

I’ve heard psychics say, “You will take a trip over water,” or “I see you attending a funeral,” but predictions of moose heads? No. Still, moose, at that moment, meant next to nothing to me.

This conversation with the psychic happened a couple of months before my daughter formed her moose phobia. Then we took a trip to a family resort on a small, Minnesota island. There, on that island, to my surprise, moose were the mascots. Cute, fuzzy, cuddly moose toys were all over the place and even pinned to trees.

My daughter didn’t seem to have a problem with that—but maybe Minnesota is where she first formed her moose fears. I thought the mini-vacation went pretty well, but who knows how it felt to her?

The following year, we ate in a restaurant in Florida that had animal heads tacked on the walls. A lion, a giraffe, maybe an elephant. I don’t think they were real (though they were rather frightening to my three-year-old daughter who averted her eyes and seemed to be nervous).

In the next room was a moose head. When she saw it (on our way to the bathroom), my young daughter screamed like in the shower scene from “Psycho.”

After that, it was downhill. Moose were a menace. My daughter had nightmares about moose. She hated—still hates—to even see the silhouette of antlers on cars’ stickers. Any antlers of any kind set her to trembling.

To no avail, I described to my daughter how I once saw two baby moose in Glacier National Park, and they were soooo cute, the way they cocked their heads at me, peered at me from behind some pine trees and seemed to be sort of smiling. They were curious, innocent, adorable creatures, I explained.

“Don’t talk about moose!” shouted my daughter. “I hate them! Moose! Aggh!” My daughter nixes all talk of travel to any national park, to Canada or even Maine--all because of the possibility (however remote) of seeing moose.

Her moose phobia (although we live in Philadelphia) has even become a bit of a local problem. I have to check each and every restaurant and some hotels and other institutions for moose heads before my daughter will walk in. This gets tiresome. It seems crazy. Sometimes, I rebel.

“You know what? You are being ridiculous,” I told her. “You’re out of line. Afraid of moose heads? We’re in the city, honey. There are no moose in the city. None. What are the chances of seeing a moose head around here?” I firmly steered my child into a restaurant.

Boom. Right in front of us, a horned boar head glared from the wall. My daughter fled in fright, stifling a scream.

So you’d think I’d learn my lesson at this point: you never know where there could be a moose head, or any sort of animal head with big horns attached to it.

Wrong. You may never know where there could be taxidermy, but people’s propensity for hunting trophies—that’s utterly unpredictable and seemingly insatiable.

We tried another restaurant with my firm assurances that the chances of animal head d├ęcor had to be nil. They had to be. Right? This restaurant had nothing to do with the North Woods. Its name included the word "fish."

Try four moose heads. Four. One on each wall.

I thought we might need a sedative. Industrial strength.

“Why do people do that?!” my daughter wailed.

Why, indeed? And why haven’t I learned yet that you just never know where there’s going to be a moose head?


  1. You saw two baby moose!?

    I think I have a new life goal.

    Equally, I understand irrational childhood (and maybe even adulthood) animal phobias. I could not even look in the direction of a fish tank for fear of seeing dead fish floating in it. And dead fish are about as innocuous as it gets. But that didn't (and - honestly - doesn't) matter to me one bit.

  2. Yeah, seeing the baby moose was a cool thing. Little did I realize how important moose would later become. My youngest daughter was reading a book that featured a moose and my eldest was even freaking about that--about a moose CHARACTER.

    I wonder why she is so frightened of them?

    I agree about the dead fish, though. Hate seeing dead fish.

    Thanks for reading.

  3. Don't go to the Harvard Club. Or any of those Ivy League clubs. Lots of that stuff on the walls (at the former, an elephant head as big as a Buick).

    Maybe your daughter should shoot them with a machine gun from a helicopter. That'll make her feel better, AND she can run on the Republican ticket...

  4. She thought about being Sarah P for Halloween last year (I was pushing it, and had her going for a while, before demonic pirate won out).