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Alaska and Points North

First published in The Alaska article was in The Marker, September 1999, Volume 20, Number 3, page 10, then in the NASSA News, October 1999, pages 12-13.

This was our third trip 'Up North.' This time we were going to hit the places that we really liked on the other two trips. Since the previous trips were virtually sheep-less and fiber-less, I requested that we stop and visit a few sheep people. This could be arranged, I was told, only if these few stops were on our predetermined route and brief!

My traveling companions were Larry, my dear non-sheep husband of 23 years, and his older brother, Louie, a recently retired cop. Early morning, May 28, found us on the road north in our Dodge Quad-door 4X4 pickup truck. I had nested in the back seat with my never-ending pile of roving to be braided.

I really did braid the entire trip with only three exceptions. The first was the 912 mile round trip on the Dempster Highway across the Arctic Circle to the village of Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. Most of this narrow unpaved road is built up on a berm to preserve the tundra, and it's permafrost. The muddy passage between the summits of two mountain ranges during a spring snowstorm was unnerving, much time was spent clinging to the seat in front of me with my eyes closed. I won't mention the ferry rides across the Peel and Mackenzie Rivers, both were angry, swollen and full of icebergs from the recent thaw. The second was during the planned 11 hour round trip back into Denali National Park to see Mt. McKinley in a school bus - another white-knuckle experience that was shortened to 8 hours because of a road wash out. The third non-braiding event was a terrifying trip through a raging forest fire near Kluane, Yukon. Surely the paint on the truck blistered! I think we were the last vehicle allowed to pass before they had to close the Alaskan Highway.
My first sheep/fiber-fix was in Delta Junction, Alaska. Many years ago I corresponded with a gal who raised Finn Sheep and worked in the Whitestone Fur Shop at a place called Rika's Roadhouse. While the guys ogled the furs, I found out that Diane wasn't working that day, but an employee called her on the phone. As we chatted I noticed a Finn ewe and her twin lambs in a pen outside the window. They were part of Diane's flock and were there on exhibit. Oh, but then I spotted a luscious furry vest hanging next to the counter. It was knitted, but somehow beaver fur was incorporated into the knitting, it was so unbelievably soft and just gorgeous! Price was a mere $1700! It's still there...
Beth Holt lives just south of downtown Anchorage, Alaska, high above the famous Turnagain Arm. She has a small place with just a few Shetland ewes and an awesome ram named Magnum, plus some Nigerian Dwarf goats. Beth and her son are alone most of the time since her husband Drew works in the oil fields way up north by Prudhoe Bay. All the animals are kept tethered and close to the house for a good reason. Brown Bears. Magnum was attacked by a brown bear and lived to tell about it. He has a less than pleasant disposition, but that probably saved his life. They had visiting brown bears one other time, when two young bears tore apart her dog-proof rabbit hutch. Beth watched helplessly as they shared her little dwarf rabbit. Magnum
Beth and I spent time going over her freshly sheared fleeces, which she shears herself. I'm still amazed at the volume of fleece that can come off a little Shetland. Beth still had one pretty white ewe yet to lamb, in fact she had twins the next day, and so I missed seeing how tiny newborn Shetland lambs can be.
Roberta and James Murray with Frankie
Roberta and James Murray
with Frankie
Roberta and James Murray have a charming place outside of Rocky Mountain House in Alberta, Canada. The beautiful Canadian Rockies dominate the horizon to the west of the house. Frankie, the Great Pyrenees, came to greet us as we drove down the drive. While gracious James entertained the guys, Roberta and I headed for the pasture to see the sheep. Murray's Shetlands
Murray's Shetlands
Soon I was literally knee-deep in Shetland sheep. Everyone wanted to say hi, even several adult rams who were happily coexisting with the ewes and lambs. I must say it's difficult for me to overcome my leeriness about having a ram standing right behind my knee. They must have sensed my nervousness, cause that's where they all wanted to be. The Murray's have unique slab-wood fences and beautifully clean fleeces.

After leaving the Murray's, we made it to Medicine Hat, AB for the night, then two more nights on the road and we were home! 10,100 miles on our rears and only seven flat tires...

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