Anita Helsius: Encounter with Muskox


Muskox—the iconic Arctic grazers distantly related to sheep and cattle—produce thick coats of luscious fur known as quviut and can weigh up to 900 pounds. Four or five family groups roam near Nome, sometimes venturing close to civilization.

They don’t tolerate dogs. Not at all.

“They will come into town and they’ll trample and gore them,” Anita says. “They’re enemies. A muskox’s big enemy is a wolf, and a dog is a wolf.”

With her cousin’s son driving, they came around a corner and there they were—eight or so muskox, standing beside the road.

“They were just watching us. They had little ones. They didn’t want us to bother their little ones.”

Anita works as a nurse at the Nome hospital. She moved north from Oregon in 2012 at the urging of her relatives who live in the Bering Sea community with gold rush origins. Anita bonded with the place.

“I came up for two years, and it’s been six years,” she says. “I do like it here—it’s really nice. And I have good friends here.”

As an avid spinner and knitter, Anita was partially inspired by the muskox herds that wander the hills surrounding Nome.

“They were really my big pull for coming up here,” she says. “There’s a whole group of us that spin and knit, and we get together every once in a while and help each other out, and it’s kind of neat.”

She likes to go into the country in the spring to search for quviut fiber that has been snagged in brush or fallen off as the muskox move from one feeding area to another.

“You can go gather it, and you clean out all the big fiber hairs and then the vegetable stuff, and then you can spin it and make hats, and gloves and stuff,” she says.

On that October day on the road, the muskox continued to stand their ground. Her cousin’s son at first wanted to try to drive them off by throwing rocks. But Anita told him to wait.

“I got out and said I want to take a picture. Don’t do anything.”

The adults faced out, forming their defensive stance, with calves behind.

Anita took the photograph from behind the vehicle. It was apparent the muskox had no intention of budging, and the dog team was on its way. So Anita and her cousin’s son turned around and headed them off.

“They had to set their cameras up in a different place,” she says

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