Sunday, August 30, 2009

"She's packin' heat"; 8-30-09

Only in a village.

Last night I was at my usual Saturday evening location; in our local teen center. I man the helm of a sometimes erratic ship. My "crew" is not always focused on performing their "duty", so I continually bark out orders. "Don't throw stuff!", "Quit swearing!" and "You guys settle down!" are some of my more frequent commands. I wish I could say the crew is always compliant, but alas, there is rebellion in the ranks.

This is why the "captain" (myself) maintains a vigilant eye, continually scanning the decks for rule infractions or developing situations requiring the proverbial "nipping in the bud". Even with my middle-aged decline in eyesight and somewhat impaired hearing, I'm able to detect an "F-bomb" from across the noisy room, or pick out a kid in a crowd in possession of some forbidden contraband. I regularly impress the kids with my acute perception/detection abilities, and I even amaze myself on occasion.

So what did I think last night when the woman came into the crowded room with a pistol in her jacket pocket? What was my initial reaction? Fear? Panic? A sick feeling in my stomach? Despair and helplessness, knowing we have no useful 911 service?

No, actually I was wondering what kind of pistol it was; obviously an auto, but was it a 9mm, 40 cal or perhaps the classic 45? Fear and panic never entered my mind.

The gun toting "Annie Oakley" is the wife of our newly employed "law enforcement officer"; in quotes because the new local sheriff is not a real sheriff, cop or anything similar. He's basically a curfew enforcer and animal control officer; which means he chases kids home at night and shoots loose dogs (sounds politically incorrect, but what can I say; this is a village in a wilderness , not a suburb)

She had just returned home from an aborted trip to Fairbanks after getting her bag stolen. With the bag went her ID, cash, credit cards; the usual. It's no surprise that the incident was upsetting to her, so maybe that was why she was packing a pistol last night. That helpless feeling of being violated was now receiving treatment...firearms treatment! Weakness and victimization begone! She is now empowered, with an "equalizer" at the ready.

Am I correct in this armchair assessment or am I stretching it a bit? Who knows, but I've never seen her with a pistol in her pocket before. The next guy who messes with her better watch out; she's packin'!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Old hunting stories; 8-23-09

With the onset of cooler days, the end of the bug war now in sight, and real darkness a part of every evening, my thoughts naturally turn toward the best of all seasons...Fall.

A few leaves are already turning color. The eager show-offs are willow; displaying the early effects of autumn's Midas touch, and a little shrub who's name I do not know; blushing crimson, as if embarrassed by the thought of the coming winter.

This morning is similar to one I experienced years ago; cool, foggy and quiet.

I was laying in my friendly sleeping bag; warm and comfy, drifting wonderfully in that place between unconscious sleep and fully awake, my mind ruminating on the events of the previous evening.

A wolf had been howling somewhere in the vicinity; no doubt attempting to assemble his team and begin a nocturnal hunt. The remains of the campfire flickered it's dying light through the wall of our canvas tent; the popping and crackles long gone. A mouse rustled around in our make-shift kitchen, harvesting a bounty dropped by sloppy hunters. A more pleasant lullaby is hard to find. But this is not a tale of that night. Rather, it is a story of the morning after.

My cot was roomy, my sleeping pad soft and my bag delightful. The cool, frosty air had kept me under cover for hours with only my lower face exposed for breathing. All else was snug and slumbering. And then I heard it.

The sound is unmistakeable once you know it. It is the essence of why I was there, in that bag, on that cot, in that tent, on the bank of that river. It was the grunty-cough of a bull moose, and a more effective alarm clock has never been invented; for moose hunters at least.

Throwing back the top of the bag, I opened my eyes.

"Did I just hear what I think I heard?" I wondered to myself, but it was a wasted thought. There, in the back of my mind, I knew I had heard it.

I lay there, still and quiet, straining to hear. For long minutes all I heard was the rhythmic sound of my friend's deep breathing, lying on the cot next to me.

There it was again, unmistakeable this time. A bull was in the grass lake right behind our camp, within 100 yards of where I lay.

I waited to see if Robert would hear it and wake up, but he just kept on snoozing.

The third was more than I could bear. "Robert, are you awake?" I knew he wasn't but I had to wake him anyway.

"HMMMmmmmm?" The deep breathing stopped.

"Are you awake?"

"I am now."

"There's a bull right back here in the lake."

No response. Clearly, Robert did not have enough faith in my hunting abilities to justify getting out of bed. The sun had not yet peeked over the horizon, the coffee was not ready and his bag was probably just as cozy as mine on this chilly morn.

We waited, in silence; me knowing, him questioning. It was a stand-off, with my limited moose hunting expertise on one side and the comfort of his bed on the other. Obviously he would have to hear it for himself. We were at an impasse. But the impasse was a short one.

With the fourth grunt he was moving.

"I guess you heard it that time?" I commented, with a silent chuckle. It was rare for me to be a step ahead of him where hunting was concerned, or anything else for that matter. He was a master at moose hunting, trapping, fishing, camping, well, basically everything pertaining to life in the Alaskan wild, so this rare moment I would savor.

"You better get Clay up."

Clay was a teen age boy in the next tent; one of several we had brought out here to learn the skills of fall hunting and camping.

"Actually, I'd rather you took him".

"Me? Why me?"

"Because if you take him he's more likely to get his moose. I might mess it up."

He saw the wisdom in my humility, bringing a quick end to the discussion. I quietly roused the boy while Robert dressed and assembled the tools of his trade; rifles, ammo, hunting knife and a roll of bright pink surveyor's ribbon.

Soon they were off, silently making their way through the woods to the grassy meadow behind our camp. A cold drink of water would have to suffice in quenching my thirst; the coffee was temporarily on hold. I sat by an imaginary campfire and waited.


I smiled.


I frowned.

More shooting meant a miss and a running moose; not the way it was supposed to happen. In frustration I started the fire and put the coffee on, disappointed that Clay had not succeeded in getting his first moose.

"Too bad." I grumbled to myself as I fed the little fire. "I hope Robert isn't mad at him".

About the time the coffee was ready I heard them coming through the woods; the breaking of sticks heralding their return. Then voices. It was more conversation than I expected from two unsuccessful hunters. Well, at least they were still on speaking terms. I soon learned how wrong my assumptions were.

As Clay excitedly told the story, with Robert interjecting important points now and then, I learned there had been a cow with two bulls. One was very large, the other younger and smaller. The first shot dropped the big bull and the other shots killed the younger bull. The cow was now headed north in search of a new boyfriend.

Clay's bull measured 67 inches; a tremendous trophy, a mountain of meat and certainly larger than any moose I have ever shot. Not surprisingly, Robert's best was in the seventy inch range.

It remains a hunting memory I will always treasure.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"Whatever you do, DON'T LICK YOUR LIPS!"

Procrastination always seems to have its way of getting you, even when it's not your fault. Sometimes we are lazy and put things off, but other times we are just too busy and can't get everything done. Things like...cutting the grass.

Alaska sun in the summer is NOT normal; there's just a whole lot of it. And it does some crazy things to weeds, grass and wildflowers. Well, vegetables too, I guess. Doubtless you've seen pictures of the legendary Alaskan cabbages, soon to be on display at the State Fair.( For an outstanding example, check out Gale's Blog [click on Gale's photo on the right/followers, then Gale's Blog] and scroll down a few posts until you see it; Awesome photo!) Well grass and weeds grow with similar enthusiasm as they make the most of our short growing season.

A power trimmer (aka "weed wacker") is a good friend to have around. A little gas, a whole lot of line, and some regular time will keep the green stuff under control. But if you fall behind it can be hard to catch up. The grass will just keep going and going; like some kind of lawn from "Jack and the Beanstalk".

Well, as you may have guessed, I got behind. The grass around my house is getting pretty tall, as I have been feeling poorly for a couple of weeks and then I was gone for another. But a bigger problem was waiting for me in the dogyard.

I have a team of sled dogs. Twelve to be exact. I love mushing. I love my dogs. Sometimes I just love hanging around the dogyard; the lot where they live. I cut fish there, make fires and cook their food there, and of course that's where all the dog mushing begins. It's half a mile from my house but it's kind of like my second home. And that home was overgrown with grass, so today I spent a few hours making it look respectable again.

While I'm working alone I have a habit of talking to myself. Hey, I talk to the dogs too. If that makes me psycho, what can I say? (probably nothing I haven't already said to myself anyway). I talk to God too, so if you see me off by myself mumbling, you'll never know if I'm praying or just engaged in a totally one-way conversation. Either way, remember, it's not polite to interrupt.

So I was running the grass cutter at high speed, buzzing through foot high grass like an inverted helicopter, when all of a sudden...WHAP! I just ripped through a considerable pile of very fresh...wait for poop!

Yeah. Oh yeah!

You know the crude saying about "when the [stuff] hits the fan"? Well this is the real thing, and I felt it splatter all over me. Now, when I say "all over me" I mean "ALL OVER ME!" Especially the most vulnerable, unprotected part of my entire existence; MY FACE!

Cheeks, nose, chin; every part of my face is thoroughly splattered. My safety glasses saved my eyes, but they are now fairly hard to see through.

Not good. Time to plot a course of action. What to do first? Attempt to wipe my face? No, it will smear. Go back to the house and wash up? No, I've got to finish. Hmmm. Just keep going?

And that's when I said it. You do remember the title of this post don't you?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Imagination in motion"; 8-12-09

The weasel. An absolutely amazing creature! If you have never seen one moving in high gear, you have missed one of life's memorable moments.

A weasel appears to be a rare combination of different animals. He has all the flexibility of a snake, blended with the 3-dimensional agility of a falcon. He also possesses quickness found in no other animal. Add it all together and you have a near-miracle of creation.

This morning while I was frying some bacon, positioned in front of my stove/kitchen window, I was severely distracted. Mr. Weasel was in a playful mood, practicing his gymnastics in my yard. Thankfully I did not burn the bacon. However I did get a number of mosquito bites when I went outside to get his picture. Clad only in my "pajamas" (shorts and a T-shirt), I spent considerable time squatting by the woodpile, making squeaky noises as I coaxed him into posing for a photo op. If you plan to photograph a weasel you'll need a fast camera and faster reflexes, 'cause he won't hold still for long. He's harder to catch than a young child.

A couple of thoughts always come to mind when I'm watching a weasel.

-Athletic ability. Imagine what an NBA point guard or NFL running back could do with similar speed and agility. Mr. Weasel will make 180 degree turns and airborne flips just for fun. A human athlete with similar capabilities would put on a show that would humiliate opponents in a way seen only in Disney movies. The star would be completely untouchable, incredibly fast and able to score on virtually every play. What a show it would be!

-Ferocity. The playful image of a frolicking weasel belies its predatory nature. On TV I once saw a weasel kill a cottontail rabbit. A weasel weighs what...a quarter of a pound? And a cottontail, 3-4 pounds? That's a predator killing prey 12 to 15 times its size. So do the math; at that rate, if a weasel weighed, say 2 pounds, it could kill a medium size dog (your pet Cocker spaniel could be in trouble). A weasel in the 5 lb. range could probably take out a Doberman or Rottweiler. Add a couple more pounds and farmyard animals such as sheep and goats would be on the menu. And here's the scary part...if weasels weighed a mere 10-12 pounds, you and I would be in serious danger.

I guess we should be thankful God made them small. This way they are fun to watch, and it's the mice that have to worry.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

8-8-09; "Cheese and bullets"

While waiting in Anchorage, waiting for flying conditions to improve, I have a bit of "free" time. Free is in quotes because nothing in Anchorage is free. Everything costs. Just being here an extra two days will probably cost me about 200 bucks; money spent on meals, gas for the car, more shopping which would not have happened if I were not here, etc.

Some reasons I'm WAITING:

Smoke; fires throughout the interior continue to fill the air with smoke. Visibility in Fairbanks this morning was a mere 1/16th of a mile, so planes were parked. Our ride out of Anchorage was therefore cancelled.

Space; a funeral in our village has all flights out of Fairbanks booked (flights that actually fly, that is). So rescheduling for tomorrow would only get me as far as Fairbanks. Since I'd rather be stuck here than stuck there, here I am.

Options; this one's easy; there are no options. Can't drive home. Too far to walk. I left my boat at home. Dog teams won't make the trip until the Iditarod next March. And chartering an aircraft is for...well, lets just say it's a little beyond my budget, since my full name doesn't include "Gates", "Kobe", "Rockefeller", "Jackson" or "Buffet" (though I may be eating at one if I don't get home soon).

So, why did I title this "Cheese and bullets"? Because those are the two main items I'm bringing home with me (If I actually get home). Returning from a trip to town is not complete without bringing home stuff that is otherwise hard or impossible to get. Cheese will always be found in my suitcase, and since hunting season is fast approaching, bullets were also on my shopping list.

It's a good thing we don't have to go through security to board our little plane. TSA would be very interested!