FEATURED COLUMN by John McDonald: ‘Moose,’ ‘lobster’ magic words

By John McDonald

Just say the words “moose” and “lobster” to 100 people chosen at random (wherever that is) and guess what the vast majority will think of?
True, several will think you’re nuts and will slowly walk away shaking their heads and maybe looking over their shoulders to make sure you’re not following them, but more than a few of those 100 people will think of Maine, which is supposedly “The Pine Tree State.”

In fact, more people associate Maine with moose and lobsters than with trees.
Why is that, John?
It’s hard to say how things like that happen; they just do. We once had millions of acres of tall pines here in Maine, but we cut most of them down to build useful things like ships and houses. Those that were left we shipped to customers around the world. These days we have millions of acres of mostly spruce and fir, but there’s no way we’re going start calling ourselves “The Spruce and Fir State.”
But I digress.
We were talking about moose and lobster and, even though we’ve cut and sold all but the last few of our magnificent pines, we still have lots of moose in our woods and tons of lobsters in our bays and harbors. I guess that’s why we can still count on many of those 100 people chosen at random to think of Maine when they hear the words “moose” and “lobster.”
I hear some of you mumble, “Where’s all this going, John?”
Well, of the dozens of e-mails I get each month here at Storyteller Central, the majority are from people who want to know something about Maine’s two most popular creatures — the moose and the lobster.
Why these two creatures? Who knows? They’re an odd couple, for sure, and have little in common except maybe their obvious ugliness. The moose is said to have a face only a mother moose could love, and no one has ever accused the lobster of being “cunnin.” They say a lobster is nothing but a cockroach that has grown big enough to eat, and if it lived on land it would probably live under your kitchen cupboards. Yet, most people who visit our state say they want to do at least two things before they leave — photograph a moose and eat a lobster.
Although Maine has thousands of moose wandering around its forests, this largest of the deer species is not unique to Maine. Neither is the lobster, for that matter. Some might ask, what about New Hampshire? OK, technically you’re correct. Our neighbors in New Hampshire do have a few hundred yards of coastline, where a few lobsters have been spotted and are occasionally caught, and, yes, they do have a few moose wandering around the base of their mountains.
Really, who cares? Outside northern New England, most people don’t know those obscure facts about New Hampshire. Ask another 100 people what comes to mind when you say New Hampshire and they’re likely to say “lottery tickets, cheap booze and butts and low taxes.”
Why all this about moose and lobsters, John?
Glad you asked. Ever since my first book of Maine stories came out in August 2002, I’ve been asked many times how I got the title “A Moose and a Lobster Walk into a Bar” (available at fine bookstores in Maine and New Hampshire).
I hope this little piece gives you SOME idea.

John McDonald is a storyteller and the author of several regional bestsellers, including “The Maine Dictionary” and “A Storyteller’s Guide to Maine.” Contact him at 207-240-8324 or maineauthorjohn.mcdonald@yahoo.com.