The Brevity of Alaskan Autumns

Fall recently set across most of the interior of Alaska. This is, at least, what he calls “Fall” and not that which the calendar tells us. It always seems to come and go quickly, sometimes in the matter of a week, so it is best to savor as much of it as you can. I say this now with only two falls in Alaska, in my lifetime, under my belt. But he has had a few more and I overheard him talking about it the other day to some lady with a Husky that we encountered on one of our daily runs so I know that I can assume it is true.

We were supposed to leave on Friday. He said we were going to leave on Friday. But when Friday came around, he was taking off for work rather than loading up the car with all of the fishing and hunting gear he had laid out the night before. I was confused. Disappointed. He was gone ALL day, like a regular work day, and took me on an evening trail run to try and make up for it. We always go running so I don’t feel as if the debt was repaid. We did pick berries, though. This time they weren’t blue. For a while I was confused. I couldn’t tell what he was picking. THEY WEREN’T BLUE! He must have sensed this when I starting whining in frustration because he carefully plucked a little red berry and showed me the low-lying plant from which he was foraging. DELICIOUS! It was on. Poor choice, man. Now he had to battle me for these savory little morsels, too. I’m not really sure why he needs so many of these berry things, but I won’t complain because I can stuff my belly and roll in moss to my heart’s content every time we go. I digress…

Saturday morning rolls around. This time he loaded the car the night before. Guns? Check. Fishing rod? Check. Coolers? Check. Smelly (and delicious) snack made from lamb livers? Check. I can already tell this is going to be a fan-friggin-tastic weekend. We load up. You’d think we were leaving for a month with how much crap he had shoved in the back of the car. There’s barely room for the two of us. Does he really need a camera? Does he really need eight different boxes with little colorful things he throws at fish? Does he really need four different types of coverings for his feet? I mean, shit, I run around barefoot all the damn time and I’m just fine… He makes me sit on a towel ever since he got this new car. He’s as dirty as I am and he doesn’t have to sit on a towel. Hypocrite.

Only 30 minutes out of town he pulls off onto this this small, almost unnoticeable, trail on the side of the road. He makes me wait in the car as he loads red shells into his pockets. The last two he holds in his hand. He let’s me out of the car and makes me sit while he puts the last two red shells into his gun. I couldn’t sit. Not for very long anyway. The excitement. It was too much! I could smell something. I knew I could. And it was close and I couldn’t wait. I wasn’t ten bounds in and FLUSH! BANG. This is what we came for. Now, I do all this work. I find the bird. I scare the bird. The bird gets so scared it dies and drops to the ground (I’m not sure why he carries that heavy gun…). I pounce on the bird and try to eat the bird. Then he comes and steals the damn thing away from me. It hardly seems fair. But he cooks them later, they taste better that way, and always gives me some so I won’t complain.

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First spruce grouse with his new shotgun.

After a while with no other sign, he decided move on to another spot. We have been here before. It must be his favorite spot to hunt because he keeps bringing me back here; last year and the year before that when I was even too young to fully comprehend the purpose of these excursions. There was scent everywhere. I couldn’t control myself. He kept getting mad at me, presumably because I was running too far up the trail and out of the range of his gun. Further away the better, I say. That way he can’t steal bird when I find one. Case and point. About a mile in I’m on to some fresh grouse aromatics. He tells me to go easy. Go easy? You know how hard it is to “go easy?” Tell a squirrel not to take a nut. Tell a bird not to flap its wings. Tell me to go easy… My tail wiggles so hard my entire rear-end shakes back and forth. WHUPP-UHPPP-UHPP-UHP-UHP-UHP! BANG! Same deal. Steals the damn bird right out from under my paws.

Further down the trail we reach a stream. We sit and have a snack like usual. Instead of turning around and heading back on the trail, we keep going. He takes me through some tall grass and prepares a spot for us sit by lying down the reeds and blades of grass. I couldn’t see shit. I’m too short and the grass was too tall. He made me sit. Told me not to move. What were we doing?  How am I supposed to find the birds if I can’t run?? We sit for a while, mostly quiet. Every few minutes he’d make some weird noise with his mouth. “WHACK-QUACK-WEHRK” or some shit like that. I could hear something faintly in the distance making a similar noise. This goes on for a while. I’m beginning to questions the point of all this when suddenly, and without notice, he stands up. I hear the sound of water thrashing. BANG! BANG! Birds? Was this birds??! He points straight ahead and tells me to fetch. Three bounds in and I find myself wet and in the stream. I could see two birds bobbing down the swift current towards me. I decide to go for the closer one, not because it was closer but because it was still flapping and seemed like more fun. I grab him in my mouth. This one tasted different than the others. I headed for the far bank of the stream determined that he was not going to steal this bird from me. Much to my surprise, he jumped in the water and was in quick pursuit of me and this tasty fowl. I was not expecting him to do this as he didn’t have his typical water navigating attire on, just pants and boots. He made it to me much faster than I was expecting and after stealing my bird, he headed downstream to get the other. Why couldn’t he have just taken that one for himself and left me mine? Again, I have to remind myself that he will share them later and this is just part of the process.

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The day’s haul: three grouse, two ducks.

That night we slept in the car. It got cold. We made less of a cocoon and more just a mess of a pile of blankets and a sleeping bag. It was quite cozy, actually.  In the morning he made me breakfast and even shared his oatmeal with me. It tasted a lot like the little blue berries we had picked the evening before on a short walk before we retired for the night. It had clouded in over night. The air was damp. And it was still cold. Before breaking camp, we both wandered off in the tundra and took poops in unison while enjoying a lovely view of the adjacent mountainside. This must have been a popular spot to enjoy the mountains because there were several mounds of bear poop within sight of our respective squats.

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My “Good morning. Give me food” face.
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Pooping with a view.

We head further down the road. It starts to rain. Just a drizzle at first, but by the time we reached our next adventure spot it was in an all-out downpour. The temperature was sitting at 41-deg F. “You’re going to make me go out in this shit?” I asked him with my eyes. His response: “Let’s go find a bear!” He donned his waders, grabbed his rifle and fishing rod, and made me put on my stupid harness. I remembered that he does this so that it’s easier to help me cross in some of the swifter currents on this creek. It was still pouring. It was still cold. The water in the creek was only slightly warmer than the air. I was miserable. Well, miserable up until the point when I realized there were fish carcasses everywhere. SO MANY STINKY THINGS TO ROLL AROUND IN! He would yell at me all afternoon trying to make me stop, but it was useless. I was, quite literally, a pig in shit. I ate some, too. My breath will smell for days. He minds, I don’t. When he hooked into a fish, I’d help him land it. He’d insist that he didn’t need my help, but I was certain he did so I helped anyway. At one point he started swearing up a storm. “F%&K! My f%&king GoPro!” Apparently his little camera thing had fallen out of his pocket, quite possibly swept down stream never to be seen again.

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Who needs a net when you have a dog?
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Or should I say: you take my birds, I’ll take your fish.

Once he decided he had caught and released enough fish, or saw that I was starting to get cold, he decided it was time to call it quits. Now, when I say “saw” I mean that I was making it quite clear that I was cold by way of sitting on the bank, soaking wet with with an intermittent shiver, and a sad-looking face that exuded the words “can we PLEASE go back to the car now?” He obliged and we made our way up the creek. It’s always harder walking up than it is down. I’m not sure how these fish can do it for hundreds and hundreds of miles. Several times he even had to help me because the current was too strong for my little legs. Who helps the fish when their tiny little fins get tired??

We never did see a bear, but miraculously he found his GoPro camera thing in a small pool near where he had landed the first fish. He appeared quite relieved. It seems to me quite odd to invest such emotion in material things. When we got in the car, he made me sit on a towel because I was wet. Again I tell you, he was as wet as I was but he didn’t have to sit on a damn towel. On our way back, he would feed me carrots, jerky, and leftover french fries from the evening before. Snow could be seen accumulating on the tops of nearby mountains. Fall, it seems, has just about come and gone.

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Confined to a solitary of towels.
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Snow falling near Chulitna Pass.

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