The roads have all been scraped down to the bare earth – streets aren’t paved here – and now I know what Alaskan mud looks like. Light brownish gray with lots of pebbles and cobbles mixed in. And lots of melted snow puddles. All very wet. The soil here has been worked and reworked for eons by the meandering rivers that flow through this region, bringing down the stones from the mountains that surround us. It’s funny, but Lindsay and I had the same reaction to the mud. I mentioned to her that it doesn’t bother me, it smells and feels right and good and pleasant to walk on; she finished my thought, “Yes, not concrete everywhere, smothering the earth!”
Our neighbors are all excited about the imminent return of the birds. This time of year “absent” is spelled h-u-n-t-i-n-g, and I have been told to expect a lot of “absenteeism” now that the waterways are about to clear. This is not a bad thing. In our not too distant past many children raised on farms in the lower forty-eight were expected to stay home from school to help their families at planting and harvest. It is the same here, where children are expected to help their families hunt when the birds return north. Even today as I write this post in my cabin in my town, I can here occasional gunfire. A goose is flying over!
One of my students was “absent” from school the other day when he and his party spied a small lake free of ice. They had travelled 18 miles to find one that wasn’t frozen over, breaking trail much of the way because there is still much snow out away from town. The hunters figured if they could find an open lake they would find birds, and they figured right. They spied a small lake about the size of our cabin a quarter mile away, ice free and black with birds. The hunters charged the lake at top speed on their snow-gos, pulled up and opened fire as the birds took flight. They were thick in the air and the hunters brought down 14 geese and ducks. Afterward they checked their weapons. Altogether they had fired eight rounds.
Fort Yukon lies within the boundaries of the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge. This is one of the largest refuges in our country, about 9 million acres. It is bordered by the Brooks Mountain Range to the north and the White Mountains to the south. More than 150 bird species fly through or nest here and we entertain as many as two million ducks annually. Not to mention the geese and songbirds and other winged visitors. (More gunfire!) We have more than 20,000 lakes and more than 7,ooo miles of rivers and streams. This is a lot of water! Occasionally you see a mosquito or two, or so I am told. I have already made the acquaintance of one. He won’t be visiting anybody else.
I borrowed the photograph on this post from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website dedicated to the Refuge. I hope you will visit it and learn about this beautiful place. Here are links to their website and to one of their maps of this area: