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Outdoors/Adventure

Empty shelves at your grocery store? Be a real Alaskan. Go find some moss.

If you’re in a city like Anchorage, Fairbanks or Kenai, look around the grocery stores. Some things are missing. Shelves that used to hold toilet paper and paper towels are stripped. Rice and pasta are in short supply. Beef and chicken are intermittently among the missing, and even eggs — which the United States produces to the tune of 99 billion per year — have been scarce at times.

So, what are the alternatives?

There was a time when all Alaskans were quite resilient. The city dwellers could jump in their pickup and run up to Lake Louise or Paxson and pop a caribou or two to get them by. A power outage meant grabbing the Coleman lantern and stoking the wood stove to heat up dinner. You might have to send the kids to the neighbors to see if they had a few extra chicken eggs.

Those times are slipping away. A safe wager is less than one in 10 Anchorage residents have a Coleman, either stove or lantern, in their garage. There are many who don’t even know what the heck I’m talking about.

A couple of years ago there was a power outage in Fairbanks that lasted a day or two, and the city set up a shelter for folks who had no power. I would expect that in Los Angeles. I was shocked to see it in Fairbanks, Alaska.

People are stocking up on groceries. Some may call it hoarding, but It really isn’t. It’s just being cautious.

The days of putting up ones garden and processing game for the freezer are becoming the bygone days of Alaska. There are more people here than “living from the land” can support. COVID-19 worries are striking even the most elastic independents. You can read how school closures are hurting our children. Yes, but more than this, our self-reliance is vanishing.

It is easier to trust to the government than to make do for ourselves. Hmmm. What did you do before toilet paper? Alaska Natives used to pull moss. They used it for diapers. “Yuk,” you say. But trust me on this one — it’s better than the Sears catalog. The paper towels you use to clean up a mess? Use a washrag. See, you just saved a couple hundred bucks on wasted supplies!

A buddy and I spent four months trapping north of the Arctic Circle one winter. We were dropped off in a single-engine Citabria. Traps, a small barrel stove, sleeping gear, heavy work gear, all of our trapping supplies and a 100-pound dog were stuffed into that small plane.

Needless to say, our store-bought food was limited. Beans, rice, oatmeal, flour, salt and yeast filled out our civilized supply.

Our firearms were limited to a .30-06 with 20 cartridges and a .22 with a dozen boxes of shells. We built a cabin and had a decent trapping season. Grouse, hares, beaver and red squirrels comprised a good portion of our diet. The edge of the Porcupine caribou herd wandered through and we ate some of them.

We came home with 17 rounds for the .30-06 and most of the .22 shells.

Those days have passed for the majority of Alaskans. The more remote villages still have a shot at getting a large part of their protein supplies from the woods. However, much of the needed knowledge is no longer a part of the culture. The adage is if a generation of knowledge is skipped, it doesn’t ever come back. Now, if the internet ever fails, many of the villages and the majority of our larger Alaska cities will be at a loss.

We need to start to think for ourselves again. Look around you. We Alaskans have advantages that most of the rest of the United States doesn’t. People in Anchorage can drive 30 minutes and be in Alaska. There are fish in our lakes, hares in our woods. Buy some beans and some stainless snare wire, and god help the red squirrels!

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

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