Alaskans have a long history of resourcefulness.
For example, old refrigerators adorning people’s front yards become fish smokers in the summer and outdoor freezers in winter. Automobile bodies serve as wind breaks. Old boats make excellent raised planters and storage containers for used tires.
But beyond this, Alaskans are the undisputed champions in utilizing one of the North Country’s most abundant, renewable natural resources: moose droppings, otherwise known as the “jewels of the north.”
It is a major industry in Alaska and one of the main attractions in gift shops across the state. Products include mooseaic earrings, moose nugget necklaces, moose nugget tie tacks, moose nugget key rings, moose nugget swizzle sticks, moose nugget shish kabobs, moose nugget Christmas ornaments and even mooseltoe.
I have heard there is even a moose nugget weather forecaster. Dry nuggets signify sunny weather. Wet nuggets show that it is raining. Rolling nuggets mean it’s windy, and extremely soft nuggets mean the moose is very near and that it doesn’t matter what the weather is.
For those wishing to supplement their garden, there are flowering moose nuggets.
Alaska moose nugget artists are very particular about the size, shape and condition of her moose nuggets. One Anchorage artist mentioned that they have to be firm, with no mold and the proper oval conformation.
“The best time to collect them is in the winter, when the moose are browsing on willows and other shrubs,” she said. “In summer the nuggets generally have a poorer consistency.”
Gift shop owners in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Seward and other Alaskan communities say that moose nugget jewelry and other novelties are quite popular with tourists.
At the Once in A Blue Moose gift shop in Anchorage’s 5th Avenue Mall, a sly-smiling clerk was eager to show me his moose berry candy, which he claimed – I kept studying that sly smile – was made out of pure chocolate and not moose stool. He also showed me his chocolate moose taffy and moose munch wild cherry raisins.
One has to look at the size of the resource to comprehend its significance. A biologist with the State of Alaska Department of Fish and Game told me that that moose density throughout large portions of Alaska ranges from .5 per square mile to 4 per square mile. This calculates to thousands of the critters across Alaska’s 586,000 square miles. An adult moose eats about 40 to 60 lbs. of willow, aspen, birch and other plants each day.
Even with four stomachs – an extremely efficient digestive system – moose relieve themselves several times a day. That’s definitely mega-tonnage of moose nuggets.
Proof of this thorough digestive process is in the smell, or lack thereof. As any longtime Alaskan is aware, accidentally stepping into a pile of moose droppings is much less traumatic than stepping into a bear’s deposit – if you get my drift. But I digress…
“It’s a growing industry,” noted a clerk at Anchorage’s Grizzly Gift Shop. “There is no lack of creativity out there on how to find new uses for these compact, exquisitely shaped items.”
Some moose nuggets are actually painted gold to resemble real nuggets. Some are used to cap pencils. There are moose nugget perfume dispensers, fire starters, and even a moose nugget lip balm – although I have never talked to anyone who has actually used the lip balm.
Moose Dropping Festival
In Talkeetna, moose nuggets have been elevated to an almost spiritual status with the Annual Moose Dropping Festival. Animal rights activists have made many inquiries about this celebration, asking about the elevation from which the moose are dropped to the ground. In fact, it’s not the moose, but their precious nuggets – thousands of them – which are released from a hot air balloon onto the festive crowd below. Depending upon the nuggets’ state of desiccation or petrification, this event can be quite dangerous to innocent bystanders. Veteran moose-dropping revelers wield umbrellas.
The Anchorage Rotary Club has been known to hold a fundraiser that also pays homage to the nugget. Numbers are painted on them and then they’re released from a helicopter onto a ground target. The person holding the number on the nugget that lands closest to the center of the target wins the big prize.
In our backcountry journeys we certainly take these brown, oval-shaped items for granted. But there’s an inescapable truth in the old adage: “One person’s refuse is another person’s treasure.”
Editor’s Note: Frank E. Baker is an ECHO News team member an outdoors enthusiast. He lives in Eagle River with his wife, Rebekah, who is a retired Anchorage School District teacher. Reach Frank at: [email protected]