The September news originates from the Minnesota Farm where fall colors are approaching their prime. Missing from the scene are the usually abundant geese and crane flocks usually seen this time of year. A general lack of standing water might explain that, and hopefully a wet year or two will bring them back.
September in Alaska was wet and windy, with a massive storm that raked the west coast with extensive damage. Some estimated the storm was the worst in hundreds of years. Many folks are still without lodging after their homes were destroyed by the storm surge. This latest storm came just before the major Florida hurricane which was also among the strongest in many years and ruined many communities. These stronger storms were predicted by scientists as a product of global warming. Storms are caused by warm air meeting colder air, and the warmer the air, the stronger the storm. The cost of these natural disasters is paid by everyone through disaster relief and insurance payouts. At some point those massive payouts will convince even the few remaining climate deniers that money spent on fighting global warming is money well spent.
Looking Back in Time
This month’s look back in time involves a disastrous canoe trip down the Kisaralik River in the 1970s. A young man from Bethel named Clay Lundy was a schoolteacher with a sense of adventure in tha era. He invited an Alaska friend Tim Dooley to join him on a canoe trip down the Kisaralik River. At that point the Kisaralik was rarely floated from the headwaters, possibly never by canoe. Some details of their trip have been lost to time because both men are now deceased, but snippets of the tale have made their way to ALO over the years. Dooley became a judge in Nome later in life, and before that, he was a lawyer in Anchorage who attended a legal seminar where the organizers thought it would be good to have some scruffy Bethel lawyer regale the assembled lawyers with tales from rural Alaska courts. Dooley later said it was that seminar that stirred his interest in later applying for the Nome court job. He also shared some of his memories of the river trip in occasional chats.
The pair had some information about what to expect from the upper Kisaralik, because Lundy had rafted the river twice before. They had allotted 30 days to make the trip and had no means of communication in the event of an emergency. The Kisaralik is traveled often now, usually by raft, and most everyone who attempts the trip has some emergency communication device on board. The pair had a fairly heavy load as they started out from Kisaralik Lake. It wasn’t long after they started that disaster stuck. Their canoe capsized, and all of their gear was swept away. They were about 60 air miles from the Kuskokwim River and Bethel, and likely 150 river miles. It was summertime and of course there were bears and mosquitoes to worry about. The bears left them alone, but the bugs were a different story. They were attacked 24 hours a day, and finally resorted to stacking mud and grass around their bodies in order to get a little sleep when they stopped. They subsisted on mostly unripe berries and mostly over ripe salmon, eaten raw of course. On the upper part of the river, they walked the tundra bank some distance from the river to avoid the meandering course of the actual river. When they got down lower, they felt the need to stay closer to the river in case a boat came along. Eventually that happened and they were driven back to the Kuskokwim by someone from Akiak who had made his way far up the river by skiff. Their wrecked canoe has been seen by many rafters on the river even recently. Any reader who has a more complete account of this remarkable adventure is welcome to share it with ALO News and it will be added next month.
September adventures at the Angstman cabin were less stressful. Stormy weather impacted both flying and boating. No moose were harvested, and not a whole lot of effort was expended looking for moose because of the weather and elder wisdom. Fishing was excellent, of course, and all guests at the cabin ate better than the unlucky travelers noted above. The menu included bison, domestic duck, white tail venison, and dolly varden. Not all of the cabin experience was positive. A bear guide and his client killed a rather modest sized grizzly bear less than a mile from the cabin in the bay where bears are often viewed. It raises the question of how desperate for a bear must these folks be to anchor their boat a couple hundred yards from an occupied cabin with a high paying non-resident bear hunter onboard and wait for one to step out on the beach. Doesn’t the high paying hunter prefer a more secluded hunting area as opposed to someone’s front yard? It’s hard to understand bear hunting where the sole purpose is to kill an apex predator, skin it and leave the carcass intact where it dropped, and then take the hide home to display. This particular bear hunter was grossly overweight and out of shape, so much so that he had a hard time getting in and out of the boat. Without a young and active guide, he had about as much chance of shooting a bear as he did winning an Olympic 100-meter dash. Without a high-powered rifle, he would be nothing more than bear bait. Meanwhile one less bear to watch.
Laureli Ivanoff describes a different kind of hunt in this article posted in High Country News - "A family works together to fill the freezer for another year." Laureli has been mentioned here before because of her quality writing, and this article features subsistence hunting in rural Alaska. It’s well worth a read.
The storms mentioned above hit hardest on the west coast of Alaska. Laureli’s home village of Unalakleet was hit hard, as were most villages along the west coast. This photo from Golovin shows what a house looked like water went down. Hard on a vacuum cleaner.
Mandatory Moose & Other Cuties
This month’s Mandatory Moose decided to pick a fight.
These bears win the cute award for September, but the squirrels are a close second.
A Different Standard in Cartoons
Three cartoons make the cut for this month.
That comparison of quarterbacks is telling. Millions mock Colin Kaepernick for giving up a ton of money to draw much needed attention to victims of police misconduct. Where are those same people when a more famous quarterback makes headlines? There must be a different standard involved.
Happy Trails, Lance!
Lance Mackey died in September, and a few thoughts about that are in order. Lance didn’t have an easy life. He somehow survived a lively first 20 years and gradually made his way into mushing which was a family tradition, with both a father and brother who had won the Iditarod. He did not have much early success, and then cancer hit. It left him with significant shortcomings as a long-distance racer, the kind that would convince most that racing was not an option. He had very poor circulation, making for cold hands even in cool weather. He also lacked saliva glands meaning he had to moisturize his mouth with water regularly, which is tough to do in long stretches of below zero temps on a race trail. But Lance was made different than most, and the cancer seemed to motivate him. His record of 4 consecutive Iditarod titles is incredible, but the fact that he won those races right after finishing the Yukon Quest all four years is beyond comprehension. And he also won two of those Yukon Quests. He did so with a bouncy spirit that captivated fans worldwide. His physical limitations worsened as he went along, and he found some relief by using marijuana for the long trips across Alaska. Eventually complaints came in and he was forced to stop using pot for at least one of his races. In his last race he was disqualified for drug use when a post-race blood test revealed meth in his system.
Most long-distance dog racers will admit to being very miserable at times during the races. Lack of sleep, cold temps, wind, rain, deep trails, boredom, muscle fatigue, stiff backs, and sore knees all contribute to the misery. In Lance’s case all of those had to be magnified by his other ailments, yet he persisted and won. When he got to Nome and soaked up the adulation, it must have made it all worthwhile. He did admit it was fun signing autographs below the tan lines of female fans in the Nome bars after winning. Check out this clip from Conan O’Brien when Lance made national TV.
And here he is in the 2020 Kuskokwim 300 where he won the Red Lantern for the first time, which was his last official finish of a race.
Lots of folks in Alaska went on social media to express their thoughts when Lance passed. The fact that he died the same day as Queen Elizabeth is noteworthy. Both were royalty, both loved dogs, and both showed incredible endurance. Somebody produced one last photo of them. Happy Trails, Lance.