By Lars Trodson
May 18, 2008 6:00 AM
"How Do You Milk A Moose Anyway?"
Lara Bricker, in her published collection of columns wryly titled "How Do You Milk A Moose Anyway?" writes this: "But as I got my feet wet as a town reporter, I soon found I always had a good localized angle whenever there was a national disaster or bizarre news story. (Or so I have told every new reporter or intern who is assigned to cover Exeter.) That's pretty amazing for a town with a population of only about 15,000. It's like the Kevin Bacon six degrees of separation theory, only usually one or two degrees involved."
Bricker hits on something important about living and writing in New Hampshire and it is that New Hampshire (not only Exeter) seems to have a connection to just about everything. And, with her apparently ever-present reporter's notebook, Bricker roams the state, a cheerful archaeologist, digging into one esoteric and crazy event after another. She manages to unearth something interesting, funny, or both, everywhere she goes.
New Hampshire is a bountiful state, and if you want to get to know how colorful, interesting and, yes, well, idiosyncratic this place is, then this book is for you. "How Do You Milk A Moose Anyway" is also an apt title. Bricker will hear a strange item — such as the fact that someone, somewhere, is making gourmet cheese out of moose milk — and rather than react the way most of us would, which would be to say "Hmmm, isn't that interesting" and then move on, Bricker actually goes out and investigates.
A good reporter has catlike curiosity — some of what you poke your head into can get you into trouble — but what makes a great reporter is the ability to write about what they've learned and bring the reader right to it. That's Lara Bricker. The events don't have to be momentous.
Take the incident when Bricker decides she will prepare a meal in a column called "Cooking For the In-Laws.' She decides to make some shrimp scampi for her husband, Ken, and add a flourish to the dish by lighting a dash of brandy on fire. But Ken didn't have any brandy.
"I have some Southern Comfort, he told me. Will that work? I thought about it and while not totally convinced it would work, I didn't want him to lose out of the impressive finale to my shrimp preparation. And so I poured a little Southern Comfort in and touched it off with a flame. Whoosh. My husband, who is a firefighter, would call what happened a 'flashover.'"
This is great stuff, and not just because Bricker, like any first-rate essayist, brings her own foibles and mishaps right into the open, but also because the writing is compact and clever; she doesn't waste a word and her timing is impeccable. Mr. Strunk and Mr. White would be proud. Bricker takes us on a tour of wine-making at Flag Hill Winery, she becomes a member of the crew of the gundalow Capt. Edward Adams, she chronicles the events and emotions leading up to her own wedding ("I ordered the soundtrack to 'My Best Friend's Wedding' and drove around singing to it for weeks."), explores the experience of shopping in a modern-day grocery store and, yes, she lets us know how one can milk a moose.
The final essay in "How Do You Milk A Moose" is called "I'm Looking For Nookie." Nookie, it seems, is the name of a cat she has adopted while in college. Bricker takes Nookie to visit her sorority house and during the visit Nookie gets lost. Bricker paints a picture of 20 sorority sisters walking through fraternity row (she calls it "testosterone alley) while yelling "NOOKIE, NOOKIE NOOKIE." The frat brothers emerged from their houses all too willing to oblige, but it had nothing to do with finding the cat.
Eventually Nookie is found after having spent the week near the frat houses, and this is how Bricker describes Nookie's reappearance: "He smelled like old beer and chicken wings and seemed to have a newfound strut to his walk. He was looking for a cigarette." This is, as is almost all of "How Do You Milk A Moose Anyway?", terrific, comic, observational writing. It's a sparkling little book, and it is a pleasure to recommend it here.