This summer we made our final farewell to our beloved Outpost, in Canada’s Yukon Territory. We sold and gave away furniture, appliances, clothing, and various collections. We were brutal in deciding what made the cut for the long drive home to Minnesota.

We often paused from the work of packing and strolled to the river’s edge to listen to and memorize its lively song. I drank in the spruce scented air with hints of fireweed nectars.

To honor this memorable chapter of my life, it was necessary that I return to our Basecamp with some Yukon souvenirs to assuage the pain of pulling out. That’s why I heaved four large rocks, too small to be boulders but nonetheless hefty, into the bed of our trusty Toyota Tundra. I will use them as steps for my log-cabin-in-progress.

Smaller caches of lovely stones, most worn smooth by wild rivers and slipped into pants pockets, also made the cut.

I stuffed the wolverine ruff that had graced a discarded parka into a clothing bag.

My first hiking stick, dubbed “Skookum Stick,” because I cut it along the same named creek, is a stout stem of peeled willow. It has partnered with me on many hikes and climbs and I was glad it slid easily into the stowed gear for the trip home.

In less than two days we had filled the back of the truck from the bed to the ceiling of the topper. The back seat of the truck was maxed out as well.

But wait. The antlers.

I had an emotional connection with two caribou sheds. One, thicker than my wrist, I found way up a remote valley along a small creek. The other belonged to the friend who introduced us to the Yukon nearly 20 years ago. Then there was the full moose rack given to me by a friend who I had joined on a moose hunt.

I hefted and fastened the moose antlers on top of the truck. Then I nested and tied the erratically tined caribou antlers inside them.

We had planned a circuitous route for our trip back to Minnesota. It would require us to cross the US/Canadian border three times. First heading into Alaska to visit dear friends in Anchorage. Then retrace our steps, back over the border into the Yukon and less than a day later cross into Southeast Alaska to Haines.

Earlier in the summer, as our proposed route unfolded I got nervous about hauling a nest of antlers through three border crossings. So I called the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife headquarters in Virginia to inquire about any necessary paperwork. I was assured that both the moose and caribou were game animals not protected species. All I needed to do was “declare them on the CBP Declaration form upon entering the United States.”

Still, I was not comfortable. I felt the antlers’ fate rested on the whims of the officers on duty. And besides, I would also have to deal with bringing the antlers back into Canada.

So I hatched a plan. Stash the antlers in the remote country somewhere along Kluane Lake in the Yukon. That way I could enter Alaska, and return to Canada with no antlers. I would pick them up, recreate my strapped nest and head to the Haines border crossing.

Hoping no porcupine or red squirrel would gnaw on them, we stashed them in thick spruce about 150 feet off the highway. A provincial campground sign was our marker as to where we hid the nest.

Nearly a week later, I parked the truck near the antler marking sign and we hurried into the bush to retrieve our treasures. I did grab a can of bear spray just in case. Though with no meat or tissue on the antlers I wasn’t really worried about a grizzly claiming them.

Approaching the antlers we were a little startled to see that something had cast the pair of lighter caribou antlers off to the side. Needless to say, fetching the antlers was a more hurried affair than hiding them.

All went well at the border, with the officer helping me fill out the necessary importation form and then giving said form a resounding stamp “Received.”

For most of the long trip home, the antlers provoked numerous triumphant fists thrown in the air, thumbs ups and open-mouthed wows.

It was interesting to note that once we entered the urban environment of Seattle/Tacoma, we were invisible. At least there were no observed scowls or upraised middle fingers.

We spent a week playing grandparents in Tacoma. Within half an hour of arriving I was untying the antlers and stashing them inside the garage. I wasn’t nervous about how they might be perceived as much as I was concerned about someone grabbing them in the dark of night.

We took four days to make the crossing back to Minnesota. It rained nearly all the time. With each gas filling, I would reach up and give the antler nest a tug to check how secure they were.

Finally, like a salmon scenting home waters, we smelled corn, cut hay, wetlands and oak woods. We eased into our driveway carrying cherished relics of our Yukon chapter and the knowledge that the best northern treasures, our Yukon neighbors and friends, would never be sold. In fact I’m hoping they might venture to the Excited States of America and visit our someday-log cabin to check out the Yukon features gracing the walls.


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