Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I had my head down and I exhaled through the fleece liner at the top of my parka. By digging my chin into my chest I could get most of my face underneath the top of my jacket, leaving only my nose to contend with the -18 degree, windless air. I trudged forward through the snow towards Nancy Lake, staying warm by pulling the sled that contained the collapsible shanty, fishing poles, heater, beer, and other equipment. The lake was about 30 yards ahead and the trail was straight and flat. The rising sun was peaking over the trees in the noontime Alaska when I heard R shout my name.

“Chris! Chris!”

I stopped and quickly turned around, dropping the rope.

“Get over there,” he declared quickly as he pointed to my right.

I quickly trudged through some snow and turned around, not being too worried because R was standing still. Looking back in the direction I was heading, I was about to miss a large Moose cow by a few yards to my left. We both watched her for a minute as she studied us, steaming out white breath, before deciding to drift slowly leftward. We simply shrugged and smiled before starting again for the lake. I find that I am getting fairly unsurprised at finding Moose anywhere at anytime.

I wore three pairs of socks with my GoreTex hiking boots, and my toes were starting to feel the pain of -18. R had comfortable bunny boots like any respectable Alaska – I’ll need to get those very soon. The blinding sun broke over the trees and we both knew it would rise no higher in the sky this time of the year. The day was clear, windless, and Denali was out – a perfect day for ice fishing, even with the bitter cold. After selecting the place to shovel and set up the shanty we set to using the augur on the 2 feet of ice. Pulling a sled and drilling a hole in the ice easily makes one sweat in well below zero temps.

We settled into the shanty, turned the Mr. Heater on, started jigging with our Prince William Sound caught shrimp, and proceeded to catch 6 beautiful Rainbow Trout. The canvas wall on my side of the shanty faced the sun so I received a little extra heat, though by the time the heat buddy got going and our hot dogs started boiling we were happily fishing in sweatshirts with gloveless hands. Life is easy and simple and wonderful during these times trapped in a small canvas shanty alone on a frozen Alaska lake, drinking Rainier beer, toasting hot dog buns on a Mr. Heater, and listening to buzzing snowmachines on some far away section of the lake.

By the time 4pm rolled around the daylight was gone, the frost had returned to my side of the shanty, and we were back in our jackets, noting with sadness the progressively slushier beer. We packed it in, glimpsed at the setting sun and full rising moon, and smiled at a perfect Alaskan day.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New experiences

While cleaning up after dinner last night around 7pm I heard a creak on my wooden porch followed by a single thump on the door. My neighbor Deb usually is good for a quick flurry of raps with her knuckle, so I doubted it was her. However, I have not met many of my other neighbors yet so perhaps it was one of them. Or, maybe some kid did it on a dare. Lots of options.

Also, my Chicago brain told me it's probably something devious. No worries on that front because the door is dead bolted, thanks to my Chicago training. If I'm indoors, the doors should be dead bolted. Old habits die hard. Thankfully so in this case...

So I shrugged and walked over to the peep hole and peered through more interested than worried. On the other side of the peephole, staring directly at me -- our eyeballs 6 inches apart -- was a huge Moose. Wow! She sniffed at the door a bit, then proceeded to lick the snow and salt from my doorstep.

I immediately kicked into a "how do I get a picture" gear. The moose never strayed beyond 5 feet of my doorstep for at least 10 minutes, just chewing and licking away. I decided that if she moved far enough away I'd crack the door and snap a picture. However, there is a great deal to be said for leaving her alone. I see moose all the time and have plenty of decent photo opportunities. I stewed a bit on it.

She finally started drifted leftwards and I started to strongly consider digging out my camera. I'm glad I was torn about the issue and wasted time pondering it, because the calf then came out of the right of my vision, following its mother. Surprising the cow and finding myself between her and her calf would have been a poor situation to be in.

The cow Moose was huge and the calf was fairly big as well. I just settled in and peered through the small windows at the top of my door, happily being a voyeurist on my little piece of Alaska. They drifted on about 20 minutes later and picked a few trees clean of their remaining leaves.