The other day I was out walking close-by the old Iditarod Trail, with the goal of getting this new bionic hip of mine operational enough by fall to be able to pack into my backcountry haunts in quest of a freezer full of moose and caribou. Along the way I was paid an introductory social call. The visitor was my first mosquito of the season. This year they have showed up late. Following our all-time record winter snowfall, the slow-to-melt ground cover has been sealing off the pest’s emergence. Then the almost rainless spring has dried up the finally-snow-free surface, delivering a one-two kibosh.

The lone representative, no doubt sent out as an advance scout, was, as always, one of the big, slow oafs of spring, the dumbest and most hapless of Alaska’s twenty-something species. These approach singly and tentatively, so are easy to cope with. Later will arrive the little, fast, mean ones, issuing in their hordes straight from the pits of hell. They will come in voracious clouds that have ever been the bane of Alaskan outdoorsmen.

From my book TRAILBREAKERS Pioneering Alaska’s Iditarod, Volume I, we here break in on the conversation about this common enemy between gnarly sourdough, Old Ben Atwater, and former Nome miner, Al Preston, a friend of my family in my childhood years.

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Hospital Moose

“Yea, well, Officer, or whatever you are, just look at it out there. It’s easy for you to get on your high horse and start issuing your big-shot “beat it” ultimatums. I don’t see you walking around out there in the deep snow in your birthday suit searching for chow! Here you are in here where it’s warm and by appearances, you don’t look to me like you’ve been missing too many meals. Now here you go trying to give one of your fellow Alaskan’s the bum’s rush.

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Iditarod Trail Chowderhead

Here along the route of the Historic Iditarod Trail our family dines sumptuously all winter on red and silver salmon. We dip-netted a freezer full of reds last summer just as they so freshly arrived from Cook Inlet some still had sea lice clinging to their silvery sides.  Into the Kenai River mouth they charged in such hordes they set the all-time one-day record for numbers passing the Department of Fish and Game’s sonar counter.

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Well Diggers and Al Gore

Catching motion out my window, what should I see but a yearling cow moose at our front steps, apparently praying on bended knee to be let in to warm herself up . Can’t blame her. Measured against those old proverbial standards using certain anatomical features of well diggers and witches as metaphorical gauges, this cold snap leaves those qualifiers far behind. Any right-minded brass monkey harboring aspirations of fathering little brass monkeys is cozying tighter than bark on a birch next to his double-stoked wood stove. I hear that up around Allakaket, which sits square on the Circle, it’s been in the 70s below. That’s cold enough to put out a lighted match. Boiling coffee pitched briskly into the air will crackle into frozen brown fog.

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Salt-Licking Moose

These two resident moose, a cow and her yearling female calf, have really become addicted to the snow-melt salt on our porch. Now they come back several times daily for a prolonged licking session. They just ambled past my window only four feet from where I’m seated at the computer. From where they’ve bedded in the yard they walk under  the deck next to the house to pass by my truck. I park so close to the house I don’t know how they squeeze by the hose spool. Continue reading