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Doesn't Get Any Better Than This

I have to admit to a guilty pleasure. In this year of COVID, I have become hooked on a reality TV show called Life Below Zero. It's about several rugged individualists living off the grid in the wilds of Alaska. I see it as an educational experience in case I ever decide to live off the grid in the wilds of Alaska.

I have learned some interesting things about hunting. One episode showed a woman shooting a caribou and then harvesting it. They call it harvesting instead of cutting it up to eat it. She had to dissect the carcus to pull out all of its innards and then drag the innards to "establish" a gut pile. She then carved up the animal into sections and carried it back to her quonset-like housing, pointing out that this was better than going into any grocery store. I wondered if she had ever been in a grocery store. I wanted to tell her that the store has meat, fish and fowl all nicely packaged in cellophane. You don't even need to establish a gut pile. She cooked some of the meat in lard and ate her dinner, voicing a common refrain, "It doesn't get any better than this." I wondered if she had ever had chateaubriand with a classic red wine sauce.

I have also learned that hunting moose is a big deal. One moose can get a person all the way through the winter. I guess 2000 pounds of meat will do that. To hunt a moose, you have to make moose sounds like a hooting and then rub a moose antler along a tree (or use a plastic bottle on a stick to make the same scratching sound, which apparently is an irresistible challenge to a bull moose to come out and fight). I tired this in my condo with a empty plastic container on the end of broom stick. . Sure enough, it sounded to me like an angry bull moose scratching around trees in the forest. Importantly, nothing of the moose is wasted. In fact, according to one of the featured hunters, the best part of the moose is the tongue, which he claimed is delicious. I told my wife, Judy, that we should try moose tongue one night. She said no. I told her that it was the best part of the moose, and that it was delicious. But she said no again and seemed adamant. I told her that the guy said 'It doesn't get any better than this." She's not convinced. So I don't think we'll be trying moose tongue anytime soon.

There are always episodes that include sleeping outside. This is essential to know about in case one can't get back to one's cabin after checking one's trap line. (They trap everything including beaver, fox, mink and rabbit.) I now know how to make a noose to successfully strangle a wide range of critters. Even in brutally cold conditions, sleeping outside is apparently actually fun. After the fire burns down to embers and one is esconded in winter clothing with several blankets on top, the camper always exclaims, "Doesn't get any better than this." I wonder if they have ever stayed in a Marriott.

These are hearty folks. They believe in the adage that necessity is the mother of invention. They invent things all the time. For example, there is a woman who lives 137 miles north of the arctic circle. If she were any higher, she would be on the other side of the planet. One day, she set up her own hot tub by combining an old bath tub with used oil barrels and copper tubing to heat water and stream it into the tub. I had Judy look at this and asked her why she couldn't do this for us. After walking through the snow and climbing into the hot water, the woman commented, "Doesn't get any better than this." I wondered if she had ever been to a Colorado resort with spas the size of swimming pools.

Dogs are important. Mushing--having dogs pull you around with a sled--is a fine art in the raising, caring for and training of sled dogs. Some of the survivalists on the show have 15 to 20 dogs that they hook up to their sleds to travel around the countryside. It is impressive to see how these canines love to pull and run. After a long run through deep snow in freezing weather, the musher will shout, "Doesn't get any better than this." I wonder if they have ever riden in a Lexus. After watching these escapades, I am now viewing my son's dog a bit differently and thinking how I might use dog power to save on gas. The problem though is that his dog seems more inclined to be petted than to be put to work.

You have to listen closely to some of the dialogue. One person set out to get "tar my gun." I finally understood that he was hunting ptarmigan, a snow white bird, which is really hard to see in the snow. But he caught them, ripped off the feathers and had the meat for dinner. "Doesn't get any better than this," he said. I would probably be in trouble since I am not a good shot. I have fired a shotgun only twice in my life when a friend took me pheasant hunting and then dove hunting. Truth be told, I could not hit the side of the barn. So I might be going hungry in the wild.

Then of course, there is the wide, open spaces to admire. Every person will look around their surroundings and say they wish that everyone could see what they see. I tell them through the TV that I am actually seeing what they are seeing. And it is beautiful. But do I have to live on the edge to appreciate it?

Watching the show, I wonder about a lot of things about living off the grid.

For example, the episodes never show anyone going to the outhouse. I guess that doesn't get better. What must it be like to have to go to the outhouse in the middle of the night in the dead of winter? Having to stripe down and sit on the top of the oval opening in the outhouse must be a brisk experience. I imagine that it snaps a person awake and makes it hard to go back to sleep.

One of the key reasons to live off the grid all the individuals say is the freedom that comes from nobody telling them what to do. Freedom "doesn't get any better than this," they maintain. I wonder if someone should tell them. Someone might tell them it's not good to go outside to cut wood when the temperature is 57 degrees below zero. Someone might remind them that there are advantages to living close to a hospital. Someone might point out to them that electricity has its advantages. But I guess that would hinder some of the mystic.

In any case, I have decided that there are real advantages to living between 70 and 80 degrees. I don't have to chop my own wood to stay warm, or train dogs to pull my sled or hope that a critter gets caught in my snare.

This evening, I will take a hot shower, put on cosy pajamas, change the sheets on my bed, have a warm cup of cocoa with marshmallows and set the temperature in my condo at 70 degrees as I head off to bed. Doesn't get any better than this.

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