Hunted by swarms of hunters and mosquitoes

Posted: Thursday, August 30, 2001

It was the last day of moose season, and Earle and I were still quite a ways from our truck. We were slowly hauling the medium-sized moose across the tundra. It was cut into quarters and we had big pieces in game bags in our packs on our backboards. So we dragged, sat and dragged some more. Nowadays, I really appreciated the meat departments in grocery stores.

Earle had just commented to me that it was not too late to get another moose - the season had just ended. Thank God.

We were laying back, resting on the spongy moss, when we heard the sound of a motor revved up. We both sat up. We had been out there a couple of days and not seen or heard any man-made sounds. Soon, into view came a four-wheeler, running every which way, with four guys in fatigues on it, shooting their rifles into the air and yelling. We were behind a little rise, so Earle signaled me to be quiet and to hunker down. He shoved the moose under moss. There were a couple scraggly spruce trees near us, which is why, I guess, those guys didn't come our way. They had bottles of something and were standing up and shooting, yelling, drinking and hollering that there was no moose.

Now Earle and I became concerned -- what was to stop these guys from shooting us and taking our moose, leaving us buried in the tundra. At first I thought Earle was overeacting when he told me to stay down and quiet. But as these drunks kept it up, I began to understand what he was worried about.

It only lasted about half an hour, I guess, but the terror was there. We were very subdued and wary of the rest on the way back, worried they would spot our rig and wait for us.

"Deliverance" went though my mind. (I wish I hadn't seen that film...)

After we were in the camper, doors locked and on the way home, we finally breathed a sigh of relief. Earle told me that stories of hunters who never came back were always circulating among the game guides. And people like we had just seen were getting more common in the Last Frontier.

I have never quite been at home with four-wheeler people since that day.

In 1974, I was hired to go to the Yukon Territory of Canada to paint a new Bullwinkle's Pizza Parlor. This was in Whitehorse.

It was June and hot. I had brought all the kids with me, as this is the last time I went away to paint, and they had all sorts of problems and called me daily. So I had Melissa, Sara and my foster son, Billy, working with me.

We were staying at a motel and didn't have much money as we would be paid when the job was finished.

The owners gave us just enough advance to eat, pay for the motel and buy gas.

Well, one evening, I was sick of sitting in the motel doing nothing. The kids were out messing around town and the rest of the crew was busy getting drunk. So I decided to go for a fast walk. It was hot and muggy and I put on shorts and a T-shirt and ran out the door. I jogged out of town (not very far to go) and was going along at a good clip, enjoying the breeze I created, when I realized I was hearing a really strange motor sound.

I stopped and turned around to see what it was and had to take off faster than before, when I saw a black cloud of mosquitoes, right behind me.

These guys were real cannibals. I made it back to the room and didn't leave again without my insect spray.

This year, I heard Cecelia Kunz tell the Tlingit legend of how mosquitos were created, from cannibals up the Stikine River. The story goes that the Tlingits got tired of having hunters go up there and getting eaten, so they sent a war party there, who cut up the cannibals - but as they were cut up, they hissed, "We will still eat you! We will still eat you!" And that's how we have mosquitos.

I think those mosquitos in Whitehorse were related.

Ellen Northup has lived in Alaska for 30 years and now runs the Senior Center downtown. She lived many years in the interior with her husband, who was an Alaskan game guide out of Slana.

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