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Like Thickets on a Skyline
Bil Gilbert
November 03, 1975
He had spent a lifetime in the wild but never had he seen anything to compare with the herd of caribou and the pair of wolves that followed
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November 03, 1975

Like Thickets On A Skyline

He had spent a lifetime in the wild but never had he seen anything to compare with the herd of caribou and the pair of wolves that followed

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"Look, there is an otter."

The otter dived, but when Ann asked "Where?" it resurfaced as if on cue, this time directly in front of her. It remained there, balancing against the current, beaming with that look of bemused congeniality that seems to be the normal expression of otters. After it had allowed itself to be admired sufficiently, it Hipped over and swam downriver. The grayling was better than three pounds, large for this species. The flanks and enormous dorsal fin (which enables the grayling to cope with the white water it frequents) were deep inky blue, flecked with iridescent patches of pink and white.

"They taste just as good as they look," I said.

"Cut it out. We are not going to eat something that pretty. I couldn't."

So the grayling was unhooked and sent off, perhaps to meet the otter.

"I must say there is a lot going on around here," Ann said. "What's next on the program?"

"I've been hoping for caribou. This probably is a crossing, but maybe we are too early for the migration."

It was half an hour before the caribou made their entrance. They arrived from the barrens, their great antlers suggesting thickets on the skyline. They came down the slopes at a leisurely pace, bucks, does, leggy fawns, browsing until they reached the river, which they entered and crossed.

There is a certain ungainliness about caribou, which weigh up to 400 pounds and stand 3� to four feet tall at the shoulder. Their legs are disproportionately long with splayed feet enabling them to function efficiently in the spongy, semi-aquatic, snow-covered terrain on which they spend most of their lives. Also, a great rack of antlers, a wild tangle of heavy, flattened prongs and spokes whose span may be four feet across, gives the animal the appearance of being top-heavy. (Among caribou both sexes are so adorned.)

In the spring the Arctic herds, thousands strong, move toward the shores of the polar sea where the does drop their fawns. By midsummer they drift back across the tree line, making for the taiga, where they will breed and pass the winter. The cyclical movements of these northern deer are awesome. Some men, having found themselves fortuitously located during the main migration, have watched all day as a river of caribou half a mile wide flowed past: la foule, the throng, is the name given to this mighty mammalian tide by French-Canadian bushmen.

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