The roadkill stories some of you have shared with me in the aftermath of the Baker-Slostad family’s adventure with wild turkey soup a couple of weeks ago got me to thinking about one of my own most memorable roadkill dining experiences.
It took place in the late 1990s in northern Maine, where moose are as ubiquitous as mule deer are in the Methow Valley. I was working at a remote Outward Bound outpost near Moosehead Lake, in the heart of a web of dozens of whitewater streams and rivers where we liked to play on our staff development days.
A typical staff development day would involve piling as many people as legally possible into a 15-passenger Ford Econoline, with our kayaks and C-1s strapped into a towering mound on the roof rack. We’d then drive to the nearest whitewater play spot on old logging roads that were still studded with saplings from Maines’ logging drive heyday, creating a tooth-jarring washboard effect akin to cobblestone streets. We’d run the river several times, playing in the rapids along the way, and then return home in the early evening.
One hot and humid July morning — in Maine there is almost no summer heat without humidity — we were headed north to a section of the West Branch of the Penobscot River. A few miles into the drive, we saw a dead moose on the side of the road, clearly a fresh roadkill.
“If that moose is still there, when we get back, let’s grab it and take it back to the basecamp and eat it,” someone suggested. As opportunivores with adventuresome palates and a particular hankering for red meat (Outward Bound menus at the time were more of the grains and legumes variety) we all agreed.
Eight hours later, the moose was still there, looking slightly rounder than we remembered, although no one was going to be the buzzkill who mentioned that. Someone brought a pickup truck and we loaded the moose in the back and brought it to the basecamp.
To gut the animal, we strung it up to the clothesline by its hind legs. When I tell this story, everyone gets bogged down by this detail. How could a clothesline support the weight of a full-grown moose? Let me assure you that Outward Bound clotheslines are beefy like no other. In some places they are mistaken for experiential education structures. Once, when my mother and aunt were visiting me at an Outward Bound basecamp, I overheard them as they peered out the window, pointing at the clothesline. “Look at the ropes course,” I heard my mom whisper to her sister. “You’re not getting me up on that thing,” my aunt replied, a hint of terror in her voice.
The moose hung while my husband sharpened his hunting knife. We all gathered around to watch the gutting. Jon poked the tip of his knife into the animal and … OK, time out. If you’re just about to eat dinner, now is when you’re going to want to put aside the newspaper and return to it later.
You’re back? OK, so there we were: a sharp blade, a clothesline, and a moose that no one was willing to label as bloated. Jon pierced the animal hide with his knife, and what followed was something like three minutes of hissing, as gasses that had built up in the moose during the midday heat were released.
You might think that this setback dissuaded us from our plan to cook the moose, but you’d be wrong. The basecamp cook assured us that slow-cooking the meat would be just the ticket, so we butchered it and threw it in the pot with a homemade sauce.
It is impossible to know whether the moose meat was actually inedible or if our memory of the gas release merely tainted our taste buds’ experience of the meat. Suffice to say, we did not eat that particular moose — but it didn’t stop us from eating others.