Many things to tell about today, but floating over it all is the HEAT! I woke up to 52F but once the sun swung around to the south where it could blast the Cabin full on, it had risen to 70F and it topped out at 78F by early evening. (A note to dwellers South…Alaskan summer sun doesn’t rise in the east or set in the west…it rises SSE and sets SSW. In fact it really doesn’t rise so much as swing around from left to right in a giant arc that only barely dips below the horizon late at night. And yes, 78F is HOT for us!) Anyway, HEAT. I was soon changing from a T-shirt to a tank top and regretting that I didn’t have stronger bug repellent as the flies were extra pesky today. (More on that in a minute…)
Only one moose this morning with one calf. My “wild America” morning was not to be repeated. Momma moose headed up the hill across the lake as soon as the sun began to show some real warmth. She will likely find a shady spot for them to bed down in the heat of the day.
I gathered my painting supplies and made my way down to the dock to begin the water sealing project on my new lumber. Just getting the dang cap off the can of Thompson’s was enough to have me sweating and cursing, and the heat was just getting started! After working for awhile, I gave up and went up for a shade break. Bad news is there is no shade to be had except inside the cabin, which had become a sauna. I had had the foresight to open the one screened window, but indoor temps still held at 10-12 degrees above the outside temps all day. So for shade I grabbed my camera and went for a short walk in the woods. In particular I went looking for Calypso, a tiny, somewhat rare orchid, native to this hillside, that I had seen in profusion the last two weekends when I didn’t have time for photography.
There was a largish patch of the little blooms near the outhouse trail, so I started there. In the course of shooting, I became aware of an unusual amount of buzzing only a few yards away. We do have paper wasps, bumble bees and other stinging critters, so I hesitated to investigate, but soon realized it was the source of my pesky flies…hundreds of flies…oh no!
For those of you who don’t live in bear country, a quick lesson. Most fatal bear encounters in Alaska have come about from folks stumbling onto (or even just close to) a kill that has been cached by a griz for later snacking. So if you spot an animal carcass, STOP! And for heaven’s sake, don’t RUN! (The only thing they defend more aggressively is their cubs, but cubs can travel. As long as momma bear hears or sees you in time, she will usually choose discretion over valor and leave with her family. Hence the practice of wearing “bear bells” when hiking.)
If you’re squeamish stop reading now and skip to the pictures or something, but before you go, rest assured that I did NOT see or get attacked by a bear.
As I feared, it was indeed one of the moose calves from two weekends ago that had the flies so excited. From the looks of things, it died of natural causes (as opposed to “artificial” causes?) rather than at the hands…er paws…of a bear. Still, my heart was beating pretty hard and I was really looking and listening and smelling for any signs of bear.
My big problem was – is – that this little carcass is only about 20 yards from my front door. I started replaying Dad’s line of “we’ve had no bear activity on this side of the lake in over 40 years” and I let that mental tape run in the back of my mind even as I stood frozen, trying to think of what to do about this potential dilemma.
In the end, I actually crept a few feet closer. What the heck, I was already well into the danger zone and had been for nearly a day, though unknowingly. And…I can’t help it…I took a picture, though I will refrain from posting it.
There was actually very little left for a predator to be interested in guarding. A wolf or even a coyote or a local dog could have taken the larger parts that were missing. There are also a number of big predatory and carrion-loving birds in the area, including bald and golden eagles, either of which could carry off large hunks of meat easily. There was no evidence of either dragging or of a struggle; the forest floor was relatively undisturbed, which further reassured me. A bear would likely have done more damage, both to the remains and to the surrounding terrain. I will confess that I didn’t have quite enough courage to get close enough to look for tracks. Guess CSI is not a promising career choice for me!
Later that afternoon, as I was back at work painting my dock boards, our family friend who lives in the camp year round came through on the trail. Her eyes got a little wide as we discussed my find, but she reminded me that the moose are all really scruffy and scrawny this spring due to the extreme snowfall. Chances are that the poor thing was either injured or malnourished itself, and fell victim to natural selection, giving its twin a better chance at survival. That’s my Pollyanna outlook and it assumes that this was one of the twins from two weeks ago.
She – my friend, not Pollyanna – also told me that her son and daughter-in-law just shot and killed a marauding griz at their home a couple of lakes up the highway. Seems brer bear killed three goats before they put an end to his career. My Pollyanna side hasn’t decided what to do with that information just yet…