"Up north," said Deb. "This is Alaska..." She held out her hand and pointed to where we were, and where Fairbanks was, and where the island was.
"And it's the only place where you can hunt muskox?" I said.
"Is it?" She looked at the sign below the head as though she had never actually read it before. "Hmm. I'm not sure about that. I'll have to check."
We started talking about wild game meats. I had been on a mission. A caribou mission. I have been going into the local grocery stories calling out for caribou, hoping a packaged steak will jump at me from the refrigerated shelf. So far, the only thing even remotely caribou has come heavily seasoned in the form of a sausage. TSO and I tried muskox just south of Dawson City, and it was quite good. But I want to eat ALL of Alaska's animals. Mmm, yummy. Sea otter.
So I inquired of Deb where a foolish traveller like myself might find some of the more watchable wildlife in fillet form, and she frowned.
"You can't buy wild game. They only allow farmed game to be sold in stores. Caribou, yes, but there's no such thing as farmed moose. The Alaskan government doesn't like it, for some reason. They farm moose in Russia and Norway, but some rancher up in Fairbanks tried for years to get a permit for it and the government wouldn't let him. The only way to try moose is to meet someone who hunts them."
She then went on to tell me about a recent kerfuffle in Anchorage, where an older single woman woke up one morning to discover that a moose had died in her backyard. This isn't that unusual; over 1000 moose have died in people's yards in Anchorage just in the last few years. Alive, the moose belong to everyone. Dead, in your yard, they are yours and yours alone. The city won't come remove them. So the woman, having no means to get rid of an entire moose carcass by herself, posted a note on Craigslist for someone to come and get it for dog food. Craigslist notice and got nervous, thinking that someone might instead go and try to salvage the moose for meat, get sick, and sue the site. Or something. So they took her posting off, and I'm not quite sure how that story ends.
But after we'd been chatting a while, Deb and I, she glanced side to side and said, "Are you going to be around in the morning? When I come to work, I can bring you some moose to try."
"That you shot?" I said.
"Yes. I don't meet many people who want to try it. Most people don't really understand hunting. But it's much better than buying meat. I know exactly where it comes from, no hormones, and I respect the animals I hunt. When my husband or I get a moose, we're so grateful. We use everything. It's really a blessing to get a moose."
I found out with a bit of talking that her husband had moved to Tok when he was a little kid, the very year that the Alaskan Highway had opened to civilian travel, 1947. He was the eldest white man in town.
This morning, TSO and I returned to the Visitor's Center. Deb brought us moose steaks and caribou sticks (like jerky.) We gave her canned albacore tuna and chinook salmon from my hometown, which she was familiar with, a happy trade. I'm so glad to make friends along the road, however fleeting they are. Thank you, Deb!
And so tonight we had the best dinner ever... Moose steak with spruce tip jam, wild rice pilaf, carrots with mustard, and of course, the very necessary desert, an uncooked smore. Raw smores are the best thing ever. After moose steak.