Roadkill Rodeo

Winter Weirdness in the Last Frontier
45

Alaska in the winter is a foreboding, unforgiving place. It is also the
sort of place where folks throw down over roadkill. Public domain.

The Alaskan interior isn’t like the rest of the planet. The following conflict played out over the course of a couple of weeks on the front page of the Daily News Miner — the Fairbanks, Alaska newspaper. Of all the weird stuff I saw while there, this curious little drama centered around a dead moose was among the weirdest.

Moose are roughly the same size as horses. Their legs are long, so most of their body mass is carried up high. That’s bad. When you hit a moose with a car, which happens roughly 500 times a year in Alaska, the animal is notorious for riding up over the hood and coming through the cockpit with predictable results.

However, moose are nonetheless great to eat. Half a moose kept my family in meat for nearly two years while we were there. As it is just stupid cold in the wintertime, roadkill does not deteriorate as it might in warmer climes.

An Alaskan moose is a simply gigantic animal. Transforming one of these creatures into something edible, particularly in the wintertime, takes an enormous amount of work. Public domain.

When life gives you lemons, help feed the needy

When we lived there, roadkill moose officially became the property of the state. The state police maintained a rotating list of service organizations. When they heard of a dead moose on the road, these altruistic guys would then retrieve the beast, butcher it, and distribute the meat gratis to those less fortunate. It seemed a pretty solid plan.

Some hapless Alaskan hit a moose. His car was drivable, and he was not hurt, but the moose was demised. The unfortunate motorist limped back into town and called the Bureau of Land Management to report the moose. The rub, however, was that the bureau was not the action agency for dead moose in Alaska. That would be the state police. However, the bureau person dutifully made a note and thanked the man for his civic-mindedness.

Meanwhile ...

Meanwhile, a 50-something-year-old Alaskan woman was out riding her snow machine and happened upon the dead moose on the side of the road. She lived alone in a little cabin out in the middle of no place and was just over the moon at her serendipitous discovery. This unexpected bounty would feed her for many months. She and a lady friend, who also lived alone in a different cabin in the middle of no place, then dragged the enormous stiff creature to the nearest domicile for processing. At the time, it was maybe -35 degrees Fahrenheit.

Now imagine the kind of women who might voluntarily live alone in the middle of no place in Alaska and also skin their own moose. These are not the sorts of ladies I’d want chasing me with sticks. These chicks were of undeniably hearty stock.

In short order, they had the big animal field stripped, and the meat put away. However, as you might imagine, given the ghastly temperatures, this was no mean project.

While all this was going on, the Bureau of Land Management representative finally got around to notifying the state police. A state trooper dutifully investigated and found where the dead moose had been dragged off. He followed the trail to the first woman’s cabin and inquired about the moose. The lady explained that the moose was in her freezer and that he needed to leave. The state trooper wisely complied.

Once back at headquarters, this poor guy’s boss said, nope, that moose belonged to the state and directed him to retrieve it. The cop dutifully went back out to the cabin and engaged in a spirited discourse with the industrious lass. She explained what it had taken to process that 1,100-pound animal at 35 below and voiced her displeasure with his job, his mission, his boss, and likely his parentage.

Alaskan cops are all psychotherapists at heart, so the officer suggested a compromise. The lawman posited that he take half the moose and wrote her a receipt attesting that the other half was a gift from the state of Alaska to the scary woman. The lady was not happy about it, but she acquiesced with reluctance. The man then packed half of the frozen moose in the trunk of his squad car and returned to base rightly pleased with himself.

His boss, however, was apparently a real stickler about moose. He directed the poor man to go fetch the rest of the creature as well. The cop dutifully did so. According to the newspaper narrative, there was at least a passing period wherein the angry Alaskan woman threatened to kill the unfortunate peace officer while waving her duly-signed receipt in his face.

We all couldn’t wait each day to get our newspapers and find out the latest installment in the dead moose saga.

Alaska is indeed a magical place brimming with peerless natural beauty. It is also the only place I know of wherein a female hermit might threaten to murder a law enforcement officer over ownership of roadkill and find that 90% of the state’s residents would take her side in the matter.

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