Copper River Record October 24, 2019
By Robin Mayo
Sitting tucked under the wide branches of a spruce tree, we are bundled against the early morning chill and prepared with thermos mugs of coffee, binoculars, and bear spray. This is the perfect spot to see out across the valley at first light.
Halfway up the mountainsides, a layer of wispy clouds is sailing upriver at a steady pace. At river level, fog is rising from the ponds and sloughs and drifting slowly downriver. It catches on hillocks and patches of spruce, piling up briefly before being combed into strands and continuing to drift close to the surface.
Several hundred yards below us, we harvested a moose in a small meadow in the bend of a slough. We have spent the last three days field dressing, hauling, and hanging the moose on a high pole. All looking forward to watching the gut pile, backbone, and head left behind. A Gray Jay arrived soon after we did, bravely flitting nearby and hauling off any beak-sized tidbit it could pull loose. Surely word has spread among the ravens, magpies, and eagles already. Bears and wolves will not be far behind. Nothing will be wasted.
The fog is thickening as a few rays of sun start to reach the ground, well soaked by a night of rain. Soon the valley floor is fully carpeted, only a few ghostly outlines of the tallest spruce trees are visible. I am struck by how slow and subtle yet complete every change in the fog is. You cannot really see movement, but within a few minutes everything is transformed. The air and water are interacting under a complex set of rules: temperature, sun, dew point, breeze, topography.
The fog drifts slowly down valley at ground level, but as it lifts to the level of the upriver breeze it is caught and sails with that current. It is okay to be moving in different directions at different levels, I remind myself. It is okay to live within conflicting values, habits, and cultures. My partner eats meat and potatoes, frosted mini wheats with milk. I also like things like asparagus, couscous, and feta cheese. This bothered me at first, but now I smile, privately pleased to eat a whole avocado at one sitting without guilt.
The coffee is no longer enough, I have started to think about the four potatoes and one onion that we carried up yesterday evening. The only part of the moose that didn’t get hauled downriver is the ragged end of one of the backstraps.
Once the fog is totally gone I’ll go make breakfast. If you cut the potatoes in irregular chunks they won’t stick together as they fry. I’ll wait to add the onion, so the potatoes will have time to get perfectly brown on every side. The meat I will cut across the grain in finger-shaped steaks to roll in seasoned flour then fry hot and fast.
An eagle arrives but does not approach the gut pile, watching for ten minutes from the top of a dead spruce. A magpie swoops in to check us out, keen eye locked on our hiding place as he cocks his head to and fro, wondering who we are trying to fool.
The fog has gathered itself for another act in the morning drama. It is draped across the valley, some places thick as a blizzard, others thin so the layered silhouettes of ridgelines show. The camera on my phone proves to be totally inept, so I content myself with admiring the way shafts of sun cut between tall spruce, sending rays to the ground.
Surely news of this bounty has spread through the valley on the breezes and scavengers are converging, waiting and watching until the smell of our piss fades and they deem it safe to approach. The big bull had an old wound on one hind leg, a thick hard mass of scar tissue all the way around the bone with three puncture wounds that never fully healed, deep pockets of grainy pus ringed with bare skin. At some point a wolf or bear had hold of that leg, but he kicked free.
Ten minutes ago the fog looked ready to lift and burn off for good, but the air has gone still now and clumps linger in spite of the direct rays of the sun. The warmth reaches in to our hiding place, welcome on chilled fingers and toes.
Ignoring the rumble of my stomach, I wait patiently while pillows soften to shrouds, which dissolve into tufts, which slowly fade. The spell is over. I gather my coffee mug and straighten stiff legs. Walking back to camp, I decide to save half of the onion for stir-fry moose tomorrow.
Morning sun cuts through the morning fog at Moose Camp Robin Mayo photo
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.