As I knelt to clean the bass I’d caught,
I heard a sound a man might make
If he’d been slugged by a heavyweight,
The primitive expletive “Unh!”
I grunted back, got a rude response,
So I walked to the lake to look.
A big bull moose stood across the way,
Up to his knees in the bay.
His hide looked smooth and shiny black;
His rack was fresh and huge.
He splashed along the distant shore,
Calling repeatedly: “Unh”!
What could he want? It couldn’t be food.
There were lilies and sedges galore.
He was looking for love or a fight.
That groan recalled the guts of thought,
The sound beneath all speech,
A word from the land of Ur.
It was laden with pain, desire, and pride.
It said what I felt when my parents died,
When I first caught sight of my wife.
This was the poem I’d been longing for,
True as the blade of a knife,
The original syllable “Unh!”
I watched that bull march into the west,
Thrashing the silver water white,
Calling incessantly as he went,
As if he carried a wound.
Late September. The air grown cold.
I saw what the moose couldn’t know:
As he waded into the dying light,
His antlers had turned to gold.
“The Underword” is from Farewell to the Starlight in Whiskey by Barton Sutter. Copyright © 2004 by Barton Sutter. Reprinted by permission of the author.
Bart Sutter is the only author to win the Minnesota Book Award in three categories: poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. He has written for public radio, he has had four verse plays produced, and he often performs as one-half of The Sutter Brothers, a poetry-and-music duo. Bart is the author of nine books, the most recent of which is Nordic Accordion: Poems in a Scandinavian Mood. He lives in Duluth.
Sincere thanks to photographer Jim Gindorff for permission to feature his remarkable moose images. Please find more of his work on his website.
Agate Extra: an update on moose in the region.
Everyone loves to catch a glimpse of a moose in a northern bog, or even on the road. But our chances of doing so are diminishing.
The Minnesota DNR’s most recent estimate for the state’s moose population is 3,030, based on aerial surveys completed in January, 2018. Research has indicated a long-term population decline since 2006, when the state population was estimated at 8,840. However, the recent report notes the stability of moose numbers in recent years—a “leveling” of the population since 2012—as “a reason for some optimism.”
According to the Michigan DNR, moose are native to Michigan, but white settlement drove them out of most of the state. In the mid-1980s, the Michigan DNR moved 59 moose from Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park to the western Upper Peninsula. In 2015 the estimated moose population there was 323 animals, a decrease from a previous survey in 2011. A smaller remnant population exists in the eastern UP.
Wisconsin residents reported sighting 31 moose in seven northern counties in 2016.
In a 2016 story in Outdoor News, the Wisconsin DNR’s Kevin Wallenfang suggests most of them are wandering in from Michigan’s UP or Minnesota.
Ontario’s Environmental Commmissioner estimates the province is home to about 92,300 moose, but even here the population is declining in recent years. Pressures include habitat degradation, disease and parasites (e.g., winter ticks, liver fluke, brainworm), hunting, predation and weather. Climate change is an increasingly serious threat.
The government’s response to population concerns is the Moose Project, exploring ways to reduce the pressures on moose and help moose numbers reach desired levels.