Two days before life on the planet changed, Ben Stitch was back in the air in his Piper Cherokee heading west from his last delivery of mail and a passenger at the Inupiaq village in the ‘1002 (ten-zero-two) Land’ near the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Stitch was one of the North Slope Borough’s pilots paid to make deliveries and other odd jobs a plane was needed for between towns and villages.
He was just settling in and adjusting himself for his long flight back to Prudhoe Bay for a quick refueling stop and then on to his home at Nuiqsut when he spotted a huge herd of caribou moving north en masse toward the coast. Migration to the north was unheard of during this time of year. It was way too early - too cold. Something seemed to be driving them.
Within fifteen minutes of seeing the caribou Stitch spotted a herd of musk ox heading in the same direction in herd numbers that he had never witnessed before. “Hmmmm…what do they know that we don’t know,” he wondered aloud.
Rehearsing all he had been taught over the years by his people and his interest in science, his mind started rattling off the checklist for possible reasons:
Earthquakes are common, but the stronger ones usually happen more around the Gulf of Alaska in the southwest part of the State. Every so often a little temblor still manages to rattle a window up here, though. It might have rattled some critters nerves this time, but it would’ve had to be big to move that many animals. Maybe there was a volcano eruption somewhere? Animals have a weird sense about these things even before they happen.
“What the…since when do grizzlies run beside musk ox without the oomingmak circling up to protect themselves?” Ben spoke out louder to himself in disbelief as he saw yet another anomaly. About a dozen grizzly bears were traveling to the right of the musk ox in a group. Neither species seemed to pay any attention to the other or the airplane noise overhead as they ran toward the direction of the coast. The oomingmak and bears were running parallel to each other at full speed about one hundred yards apart.
“That’s just nuts,” Ben muttered as he scratched his head. “What’s next - a sasquatch sighting?” He radioed to Prudhoe Bay about what he saw when he came into range, thinking the State’s wildlife folks might like to hear about this.