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Outdoors/Adventure

There be monsters in the Alaska outdoors. Or perhaps a porcupine.

A porcupine feeds on spruce needles. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)

Everyone who has spent any amount of time outdoors occasionally runs up against some thing unexplainable. In the majority of cases the unknown turns out to be something commonplace. My wife and my kids (and most tourists) are always seeing bears. I patiently explain that bears do not leave hoof tracks. Also, wolves do not leave fox tracks.

I remember walking home from the moose stand when I was 8 or 9. I had come down from the tree stand at the last of the shooting light and was headed for home. The trail was narrow and dark through the black spruce. I heard a noise in the brush right front of me. I stopped, frightened at the unknown. The rifle in hand was forgotten. After all, this was ... what?

A sasquatch? A dire wolf?

Nope, a porcupine. It scared the heck out of me.

What we don’t understand is the thing that makes us nervous, whether we be 8 or 88. The Illiamna Lake (monster) is a good example. There have been plenty of sightings, some recently, but no explanations. If someone catches it and it turn out to be a giant sturgeon or a trapped whale, people will exclaim, “ah, cool.” But until then: what if it has teeth?

Most of us who spend considerable time with our feet on the ground off the highway system know there is little or nothing to fear in the woods. Carelessness gets people, not Bigfoot or some strange phenomena lurking in the area called the Alaska Triangle.

The Alaska version of Bermuda Triangle is a vast, sparsely populated area of the state, a triangle whose points consist of Barrow, Anchorage and Juneau. It also boasts major mountains and extremely unpredictable weather. It makes sense that this area has a higher fatality rate and disappearance rate than most of the rest of Alaska.

The vast majority of things and events occurring on the ground are explainable. Bigfoot would have to leave tracks, after all. However, the sky is a different part of the story.

One winter night, walking home from a broken snowmachine, I encountered something for which I have no explanation. A mile or so from home, I was trudging along on a decent snowmobile trail when a light from overhead lit up the snow around me. I looked up, expecting the flash of a bright meteor. Instead, there was a glowing light off of my left shoulder that looked like a landing light on a helicopter.

There was no engine noise. My next thought was that it was a military flare of some kind. I continued to walk (maybe a little faster), and the light followed me, keeping pace. The flare idea went out the window when the strange light moved off about a mile to the east. I kept watch. Soon the light was back by my side, seeming to be a couple hundred yards off. When I was five minutes from home, the light went straight up and disappeared.

I have spent many dark hours walking traplines and running dog teams. I am used to short days, or in the case of a couple winters I spent north of the Arctic Circle, no daylight to speak of. Walking in the dark never concerned me; it’s actually quite relaxing. I have seen many brilliant auroras and several blinding meteorites. Today, both of these phenomena are understandable. What do you suppose the dude in Anaktuvuk Pass thought when the was sky lit up with Haley’s Comet?

I have no idea what the source of the light I saw was. But it taught me not to pooh-pooh the things that others see. Their experiences and understanding may be different than my own.

Once, while bringing a boat to Prince William Sound from Bristol Bay, the weather came up while rounding Kodiak. A friend and his girlfriend were following in their own boat. It was rough enough that it shook things loose in the cabin of their gillnetter.

We made a run for shelter and came to anchor in a sheltered bight. Snugged down at anchor, Sharon hopped over to my boat, saying, “There be monsters out there!” Previously, I would probably have leaned more toward gale-force winds. But ... maybe there are monsters out there.

John Schandelemier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives with his family near Paxson. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and a two-time Yukon Quest champion.

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