WHAT MAY FIFTH MEANS TO ME
For some people the fifth of May is a day to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, the holiday commemorating the date of the Mexican army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.
France, under Napoleon III, waged war against Mexico to collect financial debts owed. They crossed the Atlantic with troops and artillery feeling smug and superior as they attempted to create the Second French Empire in Mexico. At the Battle of Pueblo, despite being vastly outnumbered two to one and poorly equipped, the Mexican army gained the upper hand and the French retreated having lost around 500 soldiers, while Mexico only lost 100 in the clash. It was the first defeat suffered by the French army in almost 50 years.
Bolstered by the symbolic victory, the addition of the resistance movement, and eventually, in 1865, military support and political pressure from the United States, which was finally in a position to aid its neighbor after the end of the Civil War, France finally recognized defeat and started withdrawing in 1866.
If history is a guide, I would like to think that Putin and Russia will meet a similar fate due to the fierce resistance by the people of Ukraine and continued support by the U.S., NATO, EU, and allies. Will there be a particular battle or flashpoint that will be celebrated annually around the world, like Cinco de Mayo?
In the United States, California started the tradition of celebrating the victory at Pueblo in 1863 and has continued the tradition to today. In the rest of the U.S., Cinco de Mayo started to come into vogue in 1940s, 50s and 60s but didn’t gain popularity until the 1980s when marketers, especially beer companies, capitalized on the celebratory nature of the day and began to promote it. It has grown in popularity and evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage.
I’ve certainly had the opportunity to enjoy Cinco de Mayo, but May 5 has significance for me totally unrelated to celebrating Mexican culture and heritage.
I had moved to Whitefield in December of 2017 and hadn’t had any reason to travel south of the notch until May 5, 2018. I was invited to a party, which included watching the Kentucky Derby. I used to work in the horse industry in Kentucky on breeding and foaling farms during my youth, so, for the rest of my life, I have planted myself in front of a television to watch the race. The idea of watching the race with friends and frivolity was a great incentive to finally head south after my first long winter in the North Country.
What happened on my way home is the reason why May 5 is etched in my brain forever. About 10 minutes after I got off I-93 at Exit 35 just north of the notch, heading north on Route 3, I collided with a moose. It was well past dusk, pitch black on a two-lane road lined with thick woods. The car in front of me swerved and I saw the tail end of a moose that was heading into the woods on the other side of the road. I didn’t even finish my sigh of relief when another moose was swiped off its feet by my passenger side headlight and came crashing onto my windshield, rolled with a bounce onto my roof and ended up in the middle of the road behind my car.
I rolled to a stop in the “break-down lane” and gathered my wits as I brushed microscopic shards of windshield glass off my body. The quantity of glass was so prolific that at first I thought it was liquid. Thankfully it wasn’t (I’d imagined being covered with blood like Carrie) and I was relieved to see that my windshield withstood the assault, which likely was what saved my life.
A couple minutes after I stopped my car, another car rolled up behind me. He had not seen the carcass and drove over it damaging his car’s front end. Now I had company in my misery. We called 911 and tow trucks and waited. Turned out it was a busy night for moose collisions – three had been reported in my neck of the woods alone. We were on the news the next day.
When assistance arrived from Bethlehem, including police, fire, and ambulance, we were surrounded by very helpful folks. The fire chief was one such helper. He examined the scene and informed me that I was lucky to be alive. Turns out I had hit a yearling and not its mother, which was the moose I had barely missed before Junior, who was fast on her heels, met his fate at the hands of my car’s front end.
Since then, I have studied the habits of moose and learned that after the long winter, where they may lose 30% of their weight, moose will be on the move to find renewed food sources. They will first move toward lakes and ponds and other wetland areas as they thaw and warm up to take advantage of the new growth.
Breeding season and/or rut extend from mid-September through mid-October. The gestation period is 243 days, so calves are born in mid-May or early June, usually weighing 20-25 lbs. By fall they weigh 300-400 lbs. A yearling calf will stay with its mother until new calves are born, so that means spring is also the time when yearlings are wandering about on their own.
I felt absolutely horrible about killing a yearling and wondered if his mom was wandering about looking for her baby. My only casualty was my car and my ability to drive at night without white knuckles, especially at dusk. For me the fifth of May is a stark reminder to slow down and keep a sharp eye out for moose.