It’s Labor Day weekend and opening day of moose season here in Alaska. When I arrived a couple of evenings ago, the airport was full of folks aiming to shoot a moose, literally and figuratively. All those visitors and most of the locals will be in the woods, on four wheelers, on foot, on boats, looking for moose. Everything has been late this year. Break up, when the ice on the river breaks up in spring, was late this year. And everything else followed in turn, late. The salmon ran late. The warm weather for planting gardens and greenhouses was late. The berries were late, which I am not complaining about, there were still plenty to pick upon my late August arrival. It is likely that the moose will be late this year, too. It isn’t cold enough, yet, and there are still too many leaves on the trees. Things work seasonally here, not by a calendar. You can name dates and make rules that follow dates, but nature will always follow the seasons.
People here, most of the people here, are seasonal, too. My man is definitely an example of that. Life is not ruled by calendars and clocks, it is ruled by the weather, the seasons, the slant of the sun, the amount of daylight per day, by the fish in the streams and rivers and the animals in the woods and on the tundra. Calendars and clocks have no impact on nature, but moose hunting season is set by the calendar. My man thinks I’m just a calendar and clock kind of girl, and that is somewhat the case. My life is run by calendars and clocks because of my job. I also remember dates and kind expect others, too, as well. Holidays and birthdays mean a great deal to me, to others, often seasonal folks, and especially my man, that isn’t the case, they’re just another day in the midst of some much more important season. But, I am seasonal, too. For example, I happen to know that bikini and sundress season is almost over and boot and sweater season is almost here! And I love that the California climate allows for some overlap in these areas. Alaska is different. The fall season is here, even if the calendar disagrees.
Last year was different, and with a busy work schedule ahead of him, my man saw a moose on his way home from work, on opening day, pulled his rifle out of the back of his economy car, and shot his moose. Opening day. A quick call to a friend with a truck and a couple of knives and three hours later it was quartered, loaded and hung up at home. Not the norm and not the way things are going to be this year. There may or may not be a moose, but, with moose still in the freezer from last year, there is no real pressure to get one this year. But, if no moose is had this year, the pressure will definitely be on next year. As I like to say, it is what it is.
We were not going to hunt for moose today, or this weekend, or maybe at all. We have an invitation for a visit with a friend with a very large cabin, more of a lodge, really, up the Salcha River a ways. I’ve crossed the Salcha River, on our way to dip net for red salmon on the Copper River in Chitinia when I was here in July, but I have not really “seen” the river. We were a little hesitant to commit when the invitation was offered with threatening rain and an open airboat, but, today, we decided we’d go for it. Without cell service or Internet at the house, we relied on the news on one of the three or four television channels that sporadically come through. It looked like we might have enough of a rain free window to make it there, and back home again, without getting too wet or too cold.
We packed up, loaded up, geared up, hitched up and went. I wore about ten layers of clothes, Smartwool, fleece, Gortex boots, and I had my man’s huge winter parka along, for good measure. We were looking at a couple of hours, potentially in rain and wind, in an open airboat. It could be cold. And I’m a wimp. No, I’m not really, but I’m a Cali girl and it is less than 80 degrees out, so I’m a little chilly.
As we drove south, with a stop at Silver Gulch in Fox for breakfast and a brew, through Fairbanks and North Pole to Salcha, the rain would splatter the windshield just enough now and then to require the wipers. Then it would stop. Then it would begin again. When we arrived at the park where the boat launch was, we could see the trucks and trailers parked in the lot, in the overflow lot and along the road where they shouldn’t be parked. Because we’re glass half full folks, we cruised through the main lot, closest to the ramp, up the line, all full, around the corner and back down the other side, all full, except one. One spot in the main lot was open. We quickly dropped the boat in the water parked the truck and trailer in the open spot. I say we, I looked on as the boat was launched and the truck and trailer were moved. But, either way, the glass was definitely half full. See?
We got our gear on the boat and stowed. I’d worn “cute clothes” to breakfast and brought ugly clothes for the adventure. I had hoped to stash my “cute clothes” in the truck, but, with all that happened in securing that prime parking spot, this did not occur. I was ready with my daypack and all the essentials for the trip and the overnight, with some contingency items, too, like the good Boy Scout I am. And, now, in addition to uber-efficient daypack, I had an UrbanOG tote with my J. Crew cardigan, my skinny jeans, a cute blouse and my brand new black flats. I stuff them under the bow of the boat with the boxes of fishing lures, syphon hoses, aircraft engine oil and spray lubricant. I’m trying not to think about what can happen to my lovelies.
I take my spot on my lawn chair, positioned carefully in front of the “pilot’s” chair. I put my headphones on, for the engine noise, and I put my life vest on, somehow, over my Sweetie’s huge winter parka and all the layers of clothing I’m wearing. I don’t even want to think about what I look like. There must be a way to do all this with a tad more style. I will find that way. I did it as a backpacking Boy Scout leader (I’m sorry, those olive drab pants and shorts are like vomit), I will do it again. Find style and functionality where only functionality seems to be the norm. Watch me. I am grateful for the parka, though, and my gloves, and my cap as we set off up the Salcha River. Especially when it began to rain precisely two minutes into our journey.
Again, I am reminded of what it means to be lost. I am. I mean, I know I am heading upstream on the Salcha River. Period. End of story. I know, in a couple of hours, we will arrive where we are planning to go. That’s it. As with most rivers, there are channels and adjoining streams along the Salcha. My man navigates them, turning this way, yielding that. He has been to our destination once before, but overshot it by twenty or thirty miles before stopping and asking directions back. I am not unnerved, I have total and complete trust, if, for no other reason, because mine is a man who WILL stop and ask for directions. And he knows rivers, their nature, how they are constructed, how they work, what is dangerous, what is safe. Most of us look at a river and see water moving in one direction, but there is much more going on, there are eddies and back eddies, there are cut banks and shallows. To be safe, and efficient, you need to know which side of the river to be on when there are eddies and back eddies, cut banks, and all. I don’t. He does, and in particular, in an airboat. An airboat can navigate in very little water, which is why they are gaining so much popularity with hunters and outdoorsmen (people). Airboats can go where jet boats can’t, and jet boats can go where boats with propellers cannot. Airboats can even travel over hard surfaces, if need be, but, of course, this is not good for the longevity of the plastic coating on the hull of the boat, and fissures, cracks and other weaknesses in this coating, I learn later that evening, in a story, can cause said airboat to take to the air and perform acrobatics, tossing its occupants asunder in a spectacular display. Still not worried.
To add to the adrenaline, which, by the way, I love, and may actually be just a bit addicted to, remember, it is opening day of moose season. There are boats of every imaginable shape, size and propulsion charging up and down the river scaring the fuck out of any moose within a ten-mile radius. We saw no moose, we saw lots of moose hunters, and because their boats were all empty, they, apparently, hadn’t seen any moose either. We have the big rifle with us, because during moose season, you just don’t leave home without it. It rests obediently in the bottom of the boat. I love that guns are so obedient, they do exactly what you tell them to, nothing more, nothing less. For those of you a little less convinced, just keep in mind, guns are inanimate objects.
We reach our destination, which, for me, is always a little unnerving. I consider myself quite capable, quite handy, pretty smart, and, most of all, trainable. This is a new world for me, and one I quite enjoy. I’d like to assimilate. But I need to be taught the ropes, quite literally. My man is very aware of all of this, and is an excellent and patient teacher. But, sometimes you have to know what to teach and when to prompt your student to do what is expected. I am learning that when we stop the boat, I am to leap up, grab the bow rope and leap to some firm footing and secure said boat, without a) looking like a dork b) acting like a girl and c) falling into the water, which would encompass both a) and b). Only occasionally do I still need to be prompted. The only piece of the puzzle I’m missing is which knot, specifically, I should be tying. I’m a Boy Scout leader, I know lots of knots, or at least I used to. As I often say, and often say to my man, show me once, maybe twice, and I’ll be flawless. My knot left something to be desired, but it held. Next time, for sure, I’ll have him show me exactly what know he uses.
Our host is not at home. We sit on his lovely deck and enjoy a beer. A few minutes later, he arrives. Boats are shuffled about and we all retire to his palatial cabin, out of the rain and wind, and visit for the remainder of the evening late into the night. The perfect ending to a perfectly executed day, no directions required.