Ah, summer in the Arctic.
The ice is thawing, the sun is out—for nearly 24 hours—and in Talkeetna (pop. 400), Alaska, it is the cherished season when Grete Perkins heads for her woods to collect moose droppings for the popular Talkeetna Moose Dropping Festival, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary July 10-12.
"You have to go with your strength," says Gene Jenne, 62, owner of a fuel company and a longtime resident of Talkeetna, who barely flinches when introduced to a visitor as the town curmudgeon, "and come the springtime you can describe our ground cover in just two words: moose droppings. Millions of them. We are extraordinarily blessed, I guess you could say."
As you might expect, the centerpiece of the festival is the dropping toss. Essentially, you aim your dropping at a target, and points are awarded for accuracy. You get 10 droppings for a buck; a whole bucket for $30 or so.
"The prizes aren't so special," says Perkins, 50, curator at the Talkeetna Historical Society museum and an organizer of the event, "but it's the honor of tossing moose droppings that counts mostly." All proceeds from the festival go to the historical society.
A moose dropping is about the size of a Milk Dud, but it is lightweight, like a piece of pumice or a Styrofoam chip, and very unpredictable aerodynamically.
"I spray the droppings with a fixative," Perkins says, taking from her desk a souvenir box with some sample nuggets. "Otherwise they deteriorate. But once the droppings are dried out, people use them to make necklaces, earrings, tie tacks, brooches."
Any market for this?
"Oh, why yes," she says. "Last year our big item was moose-dropping swizzle sticks, although you've got to be careful not to let the dropping get in your drink."
"One year," recalls Jenne, "the wife dipped them in chocolate and rolled them in coconut, and we put them out in a bowl on the coffee table." He chuckles. "Fellow came this close to eating one." Dropping-shaped chocolates are on sale in Talkeetna for the Alaskan practical joker in all of us.