Of Moose and Men

As I promised, here is another story from the “Jamin Files”.  Jamin, my beloved husband of over 15 years has given me many adventures to collect and write about.  Some have taken years off of my life and shaved years off of his, but nevertheless, they keep us believing in the grace and mercy of God.

It happened about five years ago…

The staff at a local Bible college was having their yearly retreat in a town 80 miles north of where we lived and I had been invited to come and lead the worship for the sessions.  My friend Kitri was there as well and helping me lead worship on that first evening when after concluding our last song, I heard my cell phone ringing in my purse back at my seat.  I was a little embarrassed that I had forgotten to turn it off or silence it, but I couldn’t get to it because I was still at the piano.  My phone stopped and then Kitri’s began ringing.  I wasn’t the only one who forgot to turn off their phone!  We left the stage and Kitri picked up her phone and said “It’s Jamin.”  We both quickly stepped outside to take the call and this was what I heard on the other line:  “Hey Cate, ummm…could you call us a helicopter?  Jonathan and I are stranded on a sandbar in the middle of a raging glacial river and the water is rising.  My cell battery is about to die, so I can’t talk long, but if you could just call a helicopter and tell them where we are we need to be picked up right away.  I think Jonathan  could be hypothermic and most of our supplies have washed downstream.” Jamin’s voice was fairly calm and even.

“Ummm…is this a joke?” I asked.

You see, Jamin and Kitri’s husband Jonathan had taken off on a moose hunt just a day or two before.  They were flown in to an area below a local glacier where they had seen some moose activity a few days before.  They had brought a tent and supplies and a raft so that when they were done with their hunt, they would raft down the small creek from the glacier to the ocean and be picked up there.  The plan was a pretty good one.  They had scoped out the whole area a few days previous and had charted their course, surveyed the water and decided where to camp.  The only variable that changed it all was rain– incessant rain.  It had not stopped raining since the day they left to hunt, and that little creek they had planned to raft down had become a torrent of water that swallowed up boulders and washed trees into its wake.

Jamin and Jonathan had successfully taken a moose and were beginning their departure plan but realized that the water had risen and was moving a little faster than what they had planned for, so they lightened their load by leaving their moose meat behind in a place where they could come and get it with the airplane later, but decided to still raft down to the ocean.  That’s where it all went wrong.  The water was fast and of course freezing…being from a glacier.  They were unable to control their raft and had been pinned several times against sheer cliff edges then soaked and nearly drowned.  The story is too involved to tell it all here, but the end result was that many of their supplies washed out of their raft, they were soaked, hypothermic and they nearly lost their lives trying to get out of the river.  Jamin told me that he remembers jumping from one edge of the raft to the other as the water was pulling it under while pinning him to a rock wall, as he was trying to force the raft to pop back up out of the current.  He knew then that he was going to die.  There was no place to climb out and no place to bank the raft.  Miraculously, the current gave up its hold on the raft and they were able to push away from the rock wall and re-enter the white water currents.  Eventually they came upon a sandbar where they were able to jump out and call for help.

Kitri and I looked at each other…”call a helicopter?”  Neither of us had that programmed into our phones and we were at a retreat center at leasts 90 miles away from where our men were.  So we quickly found a phone book and began going through the yellow pages at 7:30 or 8:00 in the evening trying to find someone to answer their business line and get a helicopter to our men.  Thankfully someone did.

It was already getting quite dark and the pilot of the helicopter was hesitant to take off in the dark for fear he would not find them.  He was willing if the water was rising, but if they could hold out til morning he would leave at first light.  He was able to contact Jamin and Jonathan on the sandbar and they decided to stay the night, but would call if the water level rose any higher.  Thankfully, the rain stopped and the water began receding some so that our guys were able to stay safe through the night until the helicopter could reach them the next morning.

Grateful for their life, the men returned home via helicopter and hired a pilot to retrieve their moose for them the following day.  Let’s just say that Thanksgiving had a more personal dimension for both of our families that year. Instead of turkey, we ate Moose Meat Sandwiches (French Dip style) and thanked God for preserving the lives of our men.

I never would have known about helicopter rescues if not for my husband.  I am glad I learned because this would only be the first time they would need to be contacted….

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The Great Hunt

This is Chapter 2 of my Dillingham Adventures

Chapter 2

I remember a rather humorous phone conversation I had with a book company I was ordering from while in Dillingham.  I made my way to the local grocery store to use the payphone located outside so that I could place an order for a Bible Study Series.  I knew I would have a few months there and figured I could get a lot of studying done.  When it came time to discuss the shipping, the Customer Service Representative informed me that they would ship UPS and would reach me in a few days.  I had to inform him that there was no UPS service in the village and I would need them shipped through the regular mail.  This” threw him for a loop” since their ordering system was set up to only ship UPS.  He questioned me to be sure I knew what I was talking about.  He then offered that maybe they could fly the books to the border of Alaska and that I could then send a dog sled team to the border to fetch them and bring them to where I was.  I laughed, he laughed, and he figured out how to get the order mailed to me through the post office.

The mornings were getting colder the longer we stayed, so the little space heater we had was used in one level of the house at a time.  At night, we would carry the heater up to our little bedroom and run it all night.  Jamin would set his alarm for an hour earlier than he needed to get up in order to take the heater downstairs and begin warming up the kitchen/living area.  He would also turn on the oven to 500 degrees F. and open the oven door to speed up the warming process, then he would run back upstairs and join me in bed until it was time to get up again.  This made us thankful that our electric bill was included in our rent!

The building Jamin was building was huge and the pieces to it had been shipped in a few weeks previous.  Each metal sheet for the building was coated with a plastic sheath that had to be removed in order to use it.  On the trim pieces in particular, the plastic sheath was stubborn and the men found they were spending a lot of time removing plastic and it was slowing down the construction time.  The solution seemed to be to drop the pieces of steel off at our little cabin and throughout the day I would work on peeling the plastic off of each piece.  They paid me “Davis Bacon” wages to perform that task, so I had a chance to work along with my reading and studying, and puking.

My dish soap was beginning to freeze in the bathtub at night.  The weather was changing from summer to fall.  Fall in Alaska means moose hunting season and in this village that was no exception.  Being in such a remote area, the chances of finding a large moose are greater, so Jamin was determined we would hunt the mighty moose in our time there.  Our first chance came one weekend when someone loaned Jamin a truck and we took off on a drive around a lake outside of town.

We drove up a road that took us to the top of a hill where we pulled over on the side of the road in order to get a look down at the valley and spot for moose.  We were about 1/4 of a mile atop an embankment that was steep, but thick with Alder trees.  Beyond those short “leggy” trees was a patch of Spruce trees that eventually gave way to an open area of muskeg (low lying marsh or bog) with a small pond at it’s center.  It was near that pond that Jamin spotted the “Big One”.  And big he was.  Through the binoculars we could see a large bull moose with antlers so heavy they weighed down his head when he walked.  He was in the clear and Jamin was stoked!

For the next five minutes, everything was a blur.  Jamin jumped out of the truck, quickly moved to the back and grabbed his rifle.  He dumped out a large bag, brought it to me in the front of the cab along with his .44 handgun.  His instructions were something like this:  “I’m going down after it Cate!  Come down after me in a little while and bring this bag with you.  If you get lost, fire this gun and I will find you.  Okay, I’m going!”

Okay…..I’m six months pregnant now and my belly has become a little cumbersome.  I watch Jamin practically fly down the hill in pursuit of the bull and I grabbed my binoculars to watch and see when he would make it to the clearing.  It took him about ten minutes.  Well, I guessed then that it was my turn to descend, so I holstered the handgun, put it in the bag, zipped up the bag, threw it over my shoulder and got out of the truck.  “Oh, man…I’ve got to get down this embankment!”

I grabbed at Alder branches for stability and began groping my way down the hill.  Alders are trees that kind of begin branching from the ground up.  They are almost like a bush because of the many “legs” and branches that you have to step over and through to get through them.  I didn’t find it very easy.  As I was wandering deep into the alders and down, I thought to myself, “What if I were to encounter a bear here in the Alders?  My gun is zipped up in this bag on my shoulder and holstered.”  I quickly unzipped my bag, unholstered the gun, and placed it where I could grab it quickly if I needed to. Ten or so minutes later I made it to the bottom of the hill through the alders.  Next was the patch of Spruce trees.

I must have lumbered worse than that bull moose because it took me more than twenty minutes to get myself out to the clearing where I last saw Jamin and the moose.  To my surprise neither of them were anywhere to be seen.  I pondered what to do and decided that I would rather hang out in the clearing where I could see in all directions rather than sit under a tree.  So I found a place to sit on the wet squishy muskeg and waited….and waited….and waited.

It didn’t take long before my pregnant body had to pee.  I was grateful I was in the middle of nowhere, because I was going to have to find a place out there in the open to go.  That’s when I learned about “no-see-ums”.  They are these tiny flies that love to eat the flesh of unsuspecting humans taking tiny bites at a time.  They hurt and then the wounds they leave itch and sometimes swell up.  Needless to say, my backside had quite a dot-to-dot art gallery.

I waited and watched for what seemed like hours…maybe two hours and there was no sign of Jamin or a moose.  I was getting impatient.  Then it began to rain.  And I mean it rained!  It began pouring down so hard that there were streams of water running down the branches of the trees.  I decided that I had had enough so I reached for the .44 that Jamin had left me and I extended my arm into the air and fired the gun.

I had never fired that gun before.  That moment was my first.  All I can remember was that my sense of hearing was suddenly absent and I felt the need to overcompensate for my lack of hearing by opening my eyes wide.  I stood there kind of stunned with wide eyes wondering “what just happened?”

I began scanning the tree lines looking for movement and hoping that Jamin would emerge from somewhere.  Then I spotted movement about  a mile away across the meadow coming out of the trees.  It was a dark object that appeared to be moving my direction.  I thought about walking in that general direction to meet Jamin and then realized that I wasn’t sure that this dark object was Jamin.  I had left my binoculars up in the truck so I decided just to stay put and let the object get close enough for me to identify it before I moved.  Gratefully, as it got closer I could see that it was indeed Jamin.

Jamin had followed the moose into the woods and had climbed into a tree to get a better look.  The moose had eluded him, and he was waiting for another sign.  Jamin approached me there in the muskeg with a million apologies.  “I am so sorry Cate.  I didn’t mean for you to have to come down here.  I meant to say only come down if you hear me shoot.  Then I would need the bag to start packing out meat.  I am so sorry.”

“What?” I asked with ears that were slowly adjusting to sound again.

The rain was coming down hard and so we decided to leave and hike back up to the truck while we could.  The 20 minute downhill hike for me turned into an hour uphill hike for both of us.  I was slow. Jamin had to push me up the hill in places.  We were so thirsty and tired, so we would stop from time to time, open our mouths, and drink the water pouring off of the tree branches in a steady stream just like a drinking fountain.  We found several low bush blueberries along the way too which we ate.  It seemed like such a long hike, but we made it finally to the truck before the sun went down.

Jamin was full of apologies for causing his pregnant wife to hike for miles on a hunt, but I assured him that if I had an easy delivery with this child I would thank him then.  For now I wanted to go back to our cabin and straight to bed.

To Be Continued…..