The Reason for this Blog

The purpose of this blog is to provide a forum for readers to share their experiences regarding the powerful role of nature in their lives. Many years ago, just out of high school, some friends and I embarked on a cross-country journey across through a dense, untraveled wilderness in Washington State.  I knew nothing about poet Robert Bly’s Iron John archetype of a young man being guided by his ancient inner "wild man" to do battle with himself in nature, nor did I know anything about appropriate gear and the hazards of cross-country wilderness travel.  All I knew was that I was a young man in need of a challenge.  We marched the length of a wilderness valley, descended into vertical canyons, waded swift waters, confronted bears, crossed glaciers, and traversed a mountain range.  This expedition is described in great depth in my upcoming memoir, A River Knows My Name and you can view photos of that journey here.  I experienced first-hand the connection between wilderness rights-of-passage and healing. If you'd like to read or comment on posts, please do subscribe (sign up).  You may in addition, share with me your story of around 500 words or less. I look forward to some powerful conversations.  – Tim McHugh

Extreme Skiing and Chicken Fries 

Here's a film my son Casey made with his friends last year up at Mt. Baker and Shuksan Arm. I was speechless when I first saw this.   He's the young man in the reddish orange coat and the one in the end that somersaults over the highway.  To think that this is the same wide-eyed little boy I took across the peninsula at age six...hard to believe how the time has flown.  The mountains are his passion, as is testing his own limits.   Love these young men who love life on the edge!    Here's to youth.  Carpe Diem!

Sights from the Bow 

Fasten your seatbelts for an astonishing journey through Glacier Bay National Park including one-of-a-kind wildlife encounters.  A feast for the eyes and imagination as well as an important lesson in history.  Thanks to Kurt Dunbar for another unforgettable piece:

 

Sights from the Bow 

Johns-Hopkins Inlet and Glacier (Wikipedia Commons) 

The Ryndam had just visited Johns-Hopkins Inlet in Glacier Bay National Park. In a park with many spectacular vistas it is saying a lot that Johns-Hopkins is the most beautiful and majestic of them all. Framed to the west by several peaks over ten thousand feet in elevation, Johns-Hopkins Glacier flows at a steep angle out of the eternal winter of the Fairweather Range into the sea. At the end of the inlet where the glacier enters salt water, it constantly calves blue ice of every hue off of its face. 

That day the Ryndam had slowly and carefully edged its way around numerous chunks of ice from the size of houses to thousands of smaller pieces of every size and configuration. Sheer mountain faces with numerous smaller glaciers rose almost vertically on each side of the inlet as the ship plied forward nudging bergs aside with its wake. 

The entire inlet is also a special protected area where thousands of harbor seals birth their pups on icy nurseries in early spring.  The attentive and nervous mothers stay close to their young on the top of bobbing pieces of ice. This, even as big looming cruise ships with hundreds of leering humans plows through the maze dangerously jostling and rocking their tenuous haven. I have seen seals swept off ice floes in a ship’s wake more than once. 

There is an instinctive logic to the mother seals’ choice of this inlet to give birth. Orca who prey on harbor seals, especially vulnerable baby seals, are greatly inhibited in their hunting abilities by the massive clutter of ice in the water, which reduces the effectiveness to detect objects in the water with their echo-location. 

I liked working on Holland Americas Line’s S -Class ships (named after the Statendam). All retired now, the four S-Class vessels were nearly identical in design and construction. Over several Alaska seasons, I had worked on three of the four (Statendam, Ryndam, and Veendam). What I liked most about them was the spacious, easily accessible foredeck at the bow. This area of the bow over the forecastle was decked in teak. The chest high gunnel at the very front of the bow was designed so that if you stood back about a foot or two the air flowed right over your head. Even steaming along at 20 knots (a knot is 1.15 miles) you could wear a hat at the bow without it being blown off your head and overboard. Without being scoured by incessant wind, it was a little sweet spot where I would stand watch and scan for wildlife or just enjoy the scenery. Between my time on those three ships (and the Volendam, which had a foredeck but wasn’t an S-class), I spent countless hours at the bow spotting whales and talking to passengers, which was my job. 

  

One of the many notable and amazing sights I had experienced on the bow was coming out of Johns-Hopkins Inlet. Transiting out of the inlet entails several turns-a sharp-one to the starboard after clearing Jaw Point and then another more gradual to port, and, in quick succession, another sharp starboard bend around a rocky jut of land and into the main channel leading out of Glacier Bay fifty miles to the south. Because of the tight successive turns, the ship goes slowly close by the face of another tidewater glacier, Lamplugh. Some of us naturalists call it “Lampblue” because of its deep robin-egg blue face and azure fissures and crevasses. It is yet another spectacular sight in that inlet, and I liked to be at the bow to share the experience with passengers and answer their questions. 

Having cleared the last rocky point, the Ryndam began to pick up speed as it entered the wide channel. I was ensconced in my plumb spot at the very tip of the bow with several passengers when I noticed something in the water ahead. Two little figures directly in front of the ship were treading water, leaving an ever so slight wake as they swam. From the wake, I could see that their present path across the channel was almost certainly going to intersect with that of the ship. I wasn’t worried at first, because I thought it was probably two sea lions and that they would halt, dive or otherwise divert themselves away from the rapidly approaching ship. I had seen sea lions do this countless times.  I pulled my binoculars up to my eyes and immediately gasped. It was a mother grizzly and her cub. She was frantically swimming across the channel straight across our path, too panicked to change direction. Worse, she halted occasionally so that the little one could catch up with her. What a good mom. But the ship was going to plow right over her and her yearling cub on its present course. I turned to look up at the bridge waving my arms and pointing ahead of us to get the attention of a watchman, an officer, anybody!  I saw the pilot give me the high sign. The bears had been spotted. Whew! At that moment, the ship tacked slightly to the port just enough to pass very close by the bears right off of the starboard bow. I was so stunned by the event and concerned for the bears leaning over the bow to make sure they had made it that I hadn’t taken a single picture.  What a great opportunity lost. I was sick.     

     

A passenger next to me had a very fancy camera and I asked him, “Did you get that?” He said, “Yeah, I got a couple of good ones” as he turned the camera screen towards me revealing the pictures shown here (note the distinctive blue color caused by suspended fine particles of rock ground by glaciers). It was the first time I had ever seen a digital camera, and I remember thinking how slick it was to be able to immediately see the picture you had just taken. I asked him if he would send me copies. He said, “Give me your email address, and I will send them to you.”  I had never heard of that before either. He was good for his word.   

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Another time in Glacier Bay, nearer the broad open waters of the mouth, we had just started our day-long voyage north into the park. As usual I was on the bow. These waters were often a very good area to spot humpback whales and sea otters. There was also a large sea lion rookery nearby, and depending on the captain and the ship’s schedule we sometimes diverted to cruise by it, treating the passengers to the sights, sounds, and jarring smells of a crowded sea lion colony. Today however, we plied north without veering or slowing. 

Off the starboard side maybe a hundred yards off I spotted…”something.” It wasn’t a whale or an otter and it wasn’t a sea lion either. Puzzled, I peered through my binoculars and couldn’t believe my eyes. Without saying a word, I pointed in the direction of the sighting and handed the binoculars to my wife Patti who was on board with me this cruise and frequently shared my watches at the bow. She looked and almost dropped the eye glasses in shock as she exclaimed, “That’s a moose!”  I grinned and said, “Good eye and good call.” It was a moose, a big bull with huge antlers.  And it was swimming in the middle of a huge area of open water miles from dry land. I had never seen anything like it. The ship was probably doing between fifteen and twenty knots and we lost sight of it rather quickly. We both worried that it had to be in big trouble this far out in near freezing seas. 

One of my duties when the ship was in Glacier Bay was to see to the needs of the Park Service Rangers and the Tlingit native interpreters who accompany them. They all come aboard by shuttle from the park headquarters. The rangers do a presentation and broadcast commentary from the bridge about the history, geology, and biology of the park. The Tlingit from the nearby village of Hoonah share their culture and stories with passengers. They speak of their ancient ties to the area before the park was completely glaciated. Stories passed down dozens of generations recount the flight of their people from the approaching ice and their settlement across Icy Strait in the present location of Hoonah. They still consider Glacier Bay their home. Much to the credit of the Park Service, the deep connection of that grand place to the Huna Tlingit expressed in their own voice enhances the experience for all onboard. 

I got know several of the native interpreters fairly well and always tried to have lunch with them. They always had such great stories. Today, I was lucky that James and Carrol, a married couple from Hoonah whom I had befriended earlier in the season, had come on board today. I had a burning question for them about that moose. 

After describing what I saw, James told me and Patti, “Oh I have seen that before many times.” He said that sometimes wolves or bears will chase them into the water and that they just keep on swimming until they get to some land. He told the story of a moose swimming across the strong tidal currents of Icy Strait near Hoonah when he witnessed it being attacked by a pod of Orca. The poor thing obviously never made it to shore. Like I said, great stories. 

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Something at least as surprising as a bear or a moose at sea, occurred in Prince William Sound. This beautiful inland sea is surrounded by tall coastal mountains and strewn with lush green islands large and small. 

This body of water is mostly known by those outside of Alaska as the place where the supertanker Exxon Valdez went aground on a reef causing a massive oil spill and one of the worst environmental disasters in American history. 

The sound is home to innumerable inlets and glaciers. None are more stunning in scenic beauty than College Fjord. Tucked into the northwest corner of the sound, College Fjord has more glaciers mile for mile than anywhere else in Alaska. Off of the major shipping and ferry routes, it is a scenic destination for day tours out of Whittier and like today, an occasional cruise ship. 

College Fjord was given its name by the Harriman Expedition of 1899. Everybody on board the expedition’s steamer the George W. Elder had been hand-picked by the leader, benefactor and expedition’s namesake, the wealthy railroad magnate Edward Henry Harriman. Most of the all-male company of scientists and notables onboard were esteemed men of letters from the East. Consequently, they named the two largest glaciers at the end of the inlet Harvard and Yale. Either out of a sense of fairness, or perhaps compelled by the spirit of women’s suffrage, all the rage at the time, they named the half dozen glaciers on the west side of the inlet after women’s colleges and universities. 

There may be more sea otters in other parts of Alaska, but I never seen so many in the shortest period of time than in College Fjord. And they do something there I haven’t seen anywhere else: they get up on the small low icebergs that calve off of Harvard and Yale, the two large tidewater glaciers at the twin head of the inlet. 

The smallest marine mammal, there are sometimes as many as a dozen otters on a single berg and dozens and dozens more on bergs up and down the last several miles of College Fjord. Otters have the thickest fur of any mammal. Unless disturbed, say by an oil spill, it keeps them quite cozy in frigid waters. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, died as a result of the spill in 1989. The lucky little otters of College Fjord were spared due to favorable winds and tides, which kept the oil out of that northwest corner of Prince William Sound. But throughout the rest of the Sound, hundreds, perhaps thousands of otters perished of exposure when their coats became completely ineffective after being soiled by the thick black goo that had poured out of the belly of the Exxon Valdez after striking Bligh Reef.   

The glaciers on the west side of the inlet flow out of the icefields of the Chugach Mountains and into College Fjord. The naturalist John Muir, a member of the Harriman Expedition wrote that, “They came bounding down a smooth mountainside through the midst of lush flowery gardens and goat pastures, like tremendous leaping, dancing cataracts in prime of flood.” 

However, it wasn’t otters that were the highlight that day. 

Leaving College Fjord, the ship crossed the broader waters of Prince William Sound as we plied south towards the Gulf of Alaska. The morning fog had burned off and we were greeted by an absolutely beautiful cloudless day. The previously veiled white capped chain of mountains that encircle the sound on three sides were now revealed in stunning grandeur. The seas were uncharacteristically calm, the surface of the water as flat and shiny as a polished mirror. It was a perfect day to be in my accustomed place at the bow. 

The favorable seas and pleasant weather drew several hardcore birders I had met earlier to the bow hoping to spot some sea birds to add to their lists. Free of waves, the clarity of the deep blue water presented almost perfect conditions for sighting anything on or in the water. Right away we starting seeing salmon sharks.  Swimming near the surface, at first they only could be seen as a moving bump on the placid water, their dorsal fin not quite breaking the tension of the water. As the ship passed near them, looking down you could see theirsix foot long bodies silhouetted against the dark blue of the deep. We all got pretty good at spotting them and saw several more in quick succession. 

Salmon sharks weren’t the highlight of the day either. 

After a time, one of the birders asked me, “Where are all of the birds?” We had seen a few gulls and a couple of eagles far off, but that was it. I told the disappointed birder that Prince William Sound was still so devastated by the oil spill that ground nesting sea birds like puffins, petrels, and shearwaters had not really recovered. I told him that we naturalists call this area a “bird desert.” He nodded glumly and asked, “Is it still THAT bad?” By a sad coincidence, at that very moment the ship crossed a line of sea detritus and bits of flotsam where tides crunch together. Along that tideline you could easily see the rainbow sheen characteristic of oil in the water. I pointed to it and said, “See for yourself.” I later looked up drop-jaw in the dictionary, and there was his picture. It couldn’t have been timed better. 

  

The sour mood of that moment was broken as I pointed towards something dead ahead straight off of the bow. The ship was headed towards a bright green spot in the dark blue waters of the sound. Green I tell you. Florescent green! It was the color of a crossing guard’s safety vest and about size of a football field. We all watched mystified as it got closer and closer. We were going to go right through it. What the hell was this? 

As the ship passed over it, I peered over the bow and down into the now clear green water and almost lost myself in the wonder of the sight. A phantasmagorical green canyon opened up winding its way down into the abyss and out of sight. The walls of the chasm were comprised of countless blisters or bubbles. I had the sensation that the ship was suddenly airborne, suspended as if flying above a surreal landscape of green bulbous hills and valleys. After an eternity that probably only lasted a few seconds, I realized what I was looking at: millions and millions of moon jellyfish. There were so many of those Frisbee sized creatures reflecting and diffusing the light through their lens-like bodies, it changed the color of the lapis colored sea into a florescent wonderland of green. Astounding! It was truly one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen in over twenty five years at sea. Of all things, Jellyfish! 

A photo of moon jellyfish-color not enhanced.

 

Bogachiel 2005 - A Unique Rite of Passage 

When we talk about rites of passage, we often think of some ritual or experience that commemorates the passage from adolescence to adulthood.  But, there are other rites of passage that involve transitions no less important.  These are rites-of-passage that can commemorate the transition from toddlerhood to childhood.   

When my children were very young, I was of the belief that the best way to instill a passion for nature was to let them experience not only the joys of wilderness, but also the miseries that often accompany these same trips—mosquitos, wasps, heat, rain, thick brush and so on.  I was of the belief that this would instill a passion for the outdoors that would bear fruit for the rest of their lives.   

In 2005 when Casey was barely six years old, he and I hiked across the northern edge of Olympic National Park.   We started at the Bogachiel and finished at Sol Duc Hot Springs, thirty-three miles from start to finish.  

The trip started with his grandfather hiking with us to our first camp, five miles up the valley. 

We said goodbye to him there, and from then on, we were on our own.  

The sun was hot.  We continued up the river often stopping to swim and fly fish.  I had brought goggles with us, and the summer heat had brought the river to a tolerable temperature.  Beneath the surface of the crystal waters was a whole new world of sculpted rocks and sleek, silvery fish.  It was pure magic.

Eventually we left the trail and for several miles, we followed the river.

 

We finally reached the junction of the South Fork and camped on a sprawling beach.  The whole time I was setting up the tent, we chatted about dinosaurs, trains, fish, and whatever else was on his mind.  I built a fire, and we were so enraptured in conversation we almost forgot about the swarms of mosquitos tormenting us.  

In the evening, we fished some more.

At night my shoulders ached from my heavy pack, but I was thrilled that we were ten miles in, and it was clear we weren’t going to be turning back. We conversed excitedly, and I was spellbound by Casey's imagination and inspiration.   

I did have to backtrack a couple of miles for a little pendant he’d brought with him that he’d forgotten a couple of miles back at a water stop as when he realized his mistake, he became almost despondent.  That's what fathers do, though.  Without question.  

The next day the trail grew very faint as the valley narrowed.  Mosquitos continued swarming us, and the only thing I found that worked as repellant was to ask him questions and get him talking.   It worked.  That night we camped near Sixteen Mile Shelter, and as I set up our tent, clouds of voracious mosquitoes chewed on us without mercy.  Casey chattered away, oblivious to the misery and the red welts that were covering his arms and face.  

The following day we worked our way up along a small canyon, and eventually we came to another fork in the river where we bedded down. 

My lower back was very tight at this point, and when we awoke in the morning, it was worse. Casey’s face was even more covered in mosquito welts, and no doubt mine was too.  But, coffee and breakfast always make things better. 

We crossed the river on a wooden bridge and slowly started climbing steadily away from the river and up onto a high ridge.  Soon we began to get peek-a-boo glimpses of Mt. Olympus to our south, and Vancouver Island to our north. 

After several more hours the gray spires of Mt. Olympus and Mt. Tom became more prominent, poking the sky just to the south of us.  The glorious silence was intoxicating.  We were all alone and had not seen a soul in days.  

For miles the trail skirted the sides of ridges so steep that the consequences of a fall were unthinkable.  I hooked Casey's pack to me with a rope, just in case.  While he was stout, his six year old legs were on the clumsy side at times, and he tripped often.  I was glad I had a leash on him.

Then it happened.  We were cruising along when I tripped, the weight of my pack driving me into the ground.  I felt something in my back pop and it wasn’t a good sound or feeling. In moments, it was seizing up and I could not stand up straight. "Are you okay," he asked.  "Of course I'm okay," I said, rifling through the first aid kit for ibuprofen.  I popped a few, shouldered my pack and we continued on again.   Walking was almost tolerable, but I knew once I took off the pack again it was going to be rough.  We continued and Casey was a great distraction as he chatted on about the beauty surrounding us.

After several more miles, we finally descended toward Deer Lake in the Sol Duc watershed and shortly before our arrival, we were greeted by one.    

After taking off my pack, I realized I couldn’t stand up straight, so I crawled around as I set up our tent for our last night.  We were four miles from the car.   After eating we retired early, and Casey asked if I was okay.  “Of course I’m okay,” I replied, knowing nothing was going to stop us from finishing our trip.  

The next morning was rough, but I was able to crawl around, throwing together some breakfast and coffee.  It took quite an effort to get dressed, and packed up.  I took more ibuprofen and carefully put on my pack.   After a long moment, I could feel my body adjust to it, relieved we’d be able to hike the four miles down to the car.   

We made it back to the Sol Duc trailhead in the early afternoon, and I knew I had a hiking buddy for life.  I told Casey I was proud of him.   

Completing a 33 mile wilderness adventure at age six was a big deal.  This remains to this day, one of my proudest moments as a father.  

Natural Connections Lead to Real Curiosity 

Any teacher can attest to the fact that students have a lot to say about their education, and I have heard repeatedly from my high school students, that much of their frustration lies in being cooped up indoors listening to people like me talk.  While I do recognize the importance of talking, especially when teaching an English class, I am sure at times I over-do it.   I talk too much.  Perhaps in my zeal, I encroach too much on their own literary experiences. 

You get me going on an idea though, and boy can I talk.  I get it.  I know as a kid, when I was in school, I usually found myself wishing I was outside in the fresh air, going fishing, bike riding with friends, or just trouncing through the woods.  I empathize with my students.  School robs us of much of that critical alone time in nature that we need to forge our identities.  

That said, my school has made concerted efforts over the years to get young people outside.  We go up to Colonial Creek Campground every spring for a school hike, and in the past, we have taken our students on overnight excursions.   

In fact, several years ago we took some students up to Baker Lake for a weekend field trip courtesy of a local environmental nonprofit.  It sounded like a very promising weekend with lots of outdoor time for our kids.  One of the caveats for free lodging and food was that our students (many of whom already lived in rural settings in Skagit Valley) would go on a guided hike with the leaders of this organization.  This seemed like a great idea, but before our first day was over, we (meaning the teachers from my school plus an administrator) were informed that several of our students had been seen walking in the woods without permission.    We talked with them and reminded them that we were guests and needed to be respectful of our hosts' wishes.      

The next day was our hike and students were excited about this.  They had listened patiently to a couple hours of slideshows and lectures about flora and fauna, and they were ready to break out.   I will never forget the enthusiasm as we stepped out of the vans onto the East Bank trail.  Some kids already knew of the massive trees, and glorious scenery that awaited them.   After a morning spent indoors, they were ready to break out.      

Starting down the trail, the mood was upbeat. Then, every couple of minutes our hosts stopped the hike to point out cool forest features.  It was well-intended, but the mood quickly soured, nonetheless. A student complained that he just wanted to hike and move his body and was reprimanded for being disrespectful and loud.  It quickly spiraled from there as a power struggle and a rebellion ensued.  

Shortly after, we returned to the vans, flustered, and discouraged.  We were later informed that we would not be invited back but I already knew it was not a good match.   As well-meaning as they were, these teachers were not recognizing the needs of their audience.   I believe the best way to inspire the love of the outdoors and curiosity is to just let kids "be" in nature.  That was and is my approach as a father, and it seems to work well in terms of inspiring long-term passion for the outdoors as well as for developing lasting environmental ethics.   

Unfortunately, in their zeal to prepare our students to fully experience nature, our hosts that weekend over-did it and missed a terrific opportunity to instill a deeper connection to the natural world by letting kids be free to experience nature on their own terms.  

 

Killing and Hunting 

Sometimes our behavior and experience brings us into direct confrontation with our value systems and we're forced to make a choice.   Here's another gem by Kurt Dunbar. 

“You are right about the poor badger. I blew him up. I left that out of the story because to this day I regret it and am ashamed. Killing an innocent creature for no reason is awful and I used to do it a lot.”   

These were the words I wrote my little brother Kris after I sent him a story I had written about a memorable bird hunt we went on when we were kids. He didn’t need to remind me of the badger murder, I remember that all too well.  

Pensive, I further replied to my brother with an abbreviated version of the following expanded stories. They are the lessons that taught me the difference between killing and hunting and what cured me of both. 

____________________ 

What stopped me killing things just to kill?  

It was a tiny little gold finch.  

I was camping out over the weekend by myself in the woods of Tahoe where I grew up. It was probably around my senior year in high school. I always took my Ruger 10-22 with me camping, not to hunt or for protection but because I loved that gun and enjoyed plinking. I practiced my aim shooting pinecones off of branches and taking aim at anything that moved, be it hapless squirrels or chipmunks or any of a variety of Sierra Nevada birds that filled the branches of the stately pines and shimmering aspens.  

There was still a lot of light in the early mid-summer evening. Somewhere at the top of a tall ponderosa pine near my impromptu camp I heard a little bird singing its heart out. 

I thought to myself that it was an impossible shot. I raised the rifle anyway and placed the cross-hairs more on the sound than anything else because it was so tiny and high up that I could barely see it even through the scope. I pulled the trigger and that lovely song stopped. A beautiful yellow bird plopped down right at my feet. I stood staring at it for a very long time. I felt deeply saddened. What had that little thing done to me other than fill the air with its happy melody? After that I still hunted but I never shot anything I didn't eat, ever again.  

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It would be quite a few years later when I stopped hunting altogether in, of all places, Alaska.  

Two of my hunting and fishing buddies in Seward, Randy Knopik and Jim Daubney, decided to hire a float plane for a fly-in moose hunt and asked me to come along. I jumped at the opportunity.  

We drove the one hundred and thirty miles from Seward to Anchorage and found our plane docked at Lake Hood, the largest float plane facility in the world. 

We unloaded our gear from my blue Chevy pick-up and started stuffing the sleeping bags, a large tent, several boxes of food, and our rifles into the hold in the fuselage and the cargo area behind the back seat. Then, we crammed ourselves into the seats as the pilot turned over the aged engines of the De Havilland-Beaver. It sparked to life with a deafening roar that hurt your ears and bounced off your chest. I have flown in many a float plane over the years and there is nothing more nostalgic and reminiscent of Alaska to me than the distinctive, deep-bellowing sound and feel in the core of your body when a Beaver’s engines are fired up. I have heard that bikers get the same fond and comforting sensation from a Harley Davidson engine. 

After leaving Anchorage behind us to the east we crossed the churning and muddy tidal channel of Knik Arm at the northern end of Cook Inlet. It was a fairly clear day and in the distance hundreds of miles to the north we could see the long sting of high peaks that comprised the Alaska Range, anchored farthest north by the gigantic imposing white dome of Mount McKinley, that name not yet officially changed to Denali. 

The Susitna Delta was now spreading out before and below us to the west. We could see thousands and thousands of small lakes that dotted the confluence of several major drainages of the Alaska Range. These culminated in the massive delta of the largest of these, the Susitna River. We were going to be dropped off on one of those lakes. I know Randy and Jim had to be thinking the same thing as me, “how in the world will the pilot ever find us again in that watery maze? 

The pilot shouted loudly over the engine, “That looks like a good one.” Landing a float plane is fairly easy, it’s finding a lake with enough room to build up the speed to take off that mattered most in picking a place to set down. The pilot said he knew of several novice “boneheads” who had landed on lakes too small who had to leave their craft as permanent monuments to inexperience and bad judgement. The pilot began a slow turn to the left coming about almost 180 degrees in the direction we had just come from. He throttled back the engine and began a steep descent. Soon the plane smoothly coasted to a landing on a long deep blue lake. The pilot taxied the sturdy Beaver to a small stretch of gravely beach by a small grassy clearing he thought might be a nice place to set up a camp.  

We unloaded our gear and started to set up camp as the plane taxied off coating us with a fine mist from the backwash of the engine. Clear of us, the pilot gunned the engine to the maximum. The plane lurched ahead and scooted across the length of the lake aiming straight for the line of trees at the far end from us. Then, the faithful Beaver lifted off of the lake water streaming from its floats and easily cleared the stunted black spruce and tall cottonwoods on the far shore and was gone from sight. We could still hear its engine for several minutes until it finally faded in the distance. Quiet now, we set up the tent, stuffed our sleeping bags inside and cooked up something to eat before settling in early. We intended to get up at first light and make a full day of it. 

It was light, but the sun hadn’t come yet when we all wormed out of our sleeping bags, poured out of the tent and got dressed. We ate some fruit and crackers but didn’t want to waste time starting a fire and cooking a hot breakfast. We were anxious to meet the moose out there waiting for us.  

Jim had brought a rubber dinghy that barely fit the three of us safely. We all hopped in the tiny raft anyway and started paddling across the lake. Yesterday as we flew in we had seen what we thought might be prime moose country. In the direction across the lake from our camp were several smaller lakes and what looked like broad open glades. Our plan was to head in that general area. 

Low puffy fog covered the lake in patches about ten or twenty feet high. We paddled in and out these patches as we headed across the lake. As we crossed the mirror calm surface between the open patches of fog the rising sun began to break the tree line. It illuminated the fog in a soft pink hue as if it was lit from within. That was pretty enough but we were completely knocked back by the next unexpected sight. A flock of five or six trumpeter swans came floating out of the pink billows like they were choreographed for a nature film. We stopped paddling and took in a few moments of sheer beauty until the swans disappeared into another patch of pink fog.  

We spent that first full day mucking around and trudging over muskeg and through thick brush trying find a moose, but to no avail. With the sun starting to wane, we headed back to camp hungry, footsore, muddy, and tired but with our enthusiasm still intact.    

Over the next two days between traipses beating the bush, we fished the lake we were camped on. It was filled with countless grayling that hit our lures with every cast. We ate our fill of these tasty little fish our entire time there. Grayling meat is white and sweet, not fishy at all.  

Me with a grayling 

 

The fishing was great but our moose hunting was turning into something of a comedy of errors. 

The second day, all of us stuck together most of the morning roaming the woods and marshes anxious to spot something. After we stopped and bolted down a quick lunch of sandwiches, we decided to split up thinking the chances of somebody seeing a moose would increase with three of us looking separately. We were breaking a cardinal rule of hunting, fishing, hiking or any activity in the wild. Never go it alone. 

Soon we were out of sight from each other and following our own clues as to where we thought we might find our elusive quarry. I had no idea what I was doing. I had never hunted moose before. The wet terrain and triple canopy subarctic forest was completely alien to me compared to the much drier and sparser pine forests of the Sierra Nevada Mountains where I was raised. As a kid I had trudged over rocky, boulder strewn ridges chasing mule deer through knee-high sage brush and manzanita with my grandfather. But this country was so different. I was about to find out just how different and it would nearly cost me my life. 

Not really knowing for sure where moose were to be found, I remembered a long-time Alaskan I worked with, George Zimmerman, say that moose liked the succulent plants along the shore of lakes and in shallow ponds. He had also said that they liked the plentiful vegetation of grassy openings. George bagged a moose every year so I figured he knew what he was talking about. Breaking out of the thick woods there was now a wide rich green opening in the forest in front of me probably a couple of hundred yards wide.  

I started across the clearing and felt the soft green vegetation give way under my boots, like walking on a foam pad. As I walked a little farther there was a very subtle bounce and give to the ground, almost like walking on a trampoline. Several yards farther along there was a distinct roll and ripple to the ground, as if I was standing on a giant water bed. I could actually see the “ground” undulating like a wave. 

This was getting really weird. I stopped, puzzled as to what to do. Should I keep going or trace my steps back? Looking down at my boots I noticed water was up to my ankles and it was steadily rising up my legs. At the same time the ground was actually sinking and to my horror I was sinking with it. Before I knew what was happening I was standing in the middle of a green crater with water now up to my waist. At this point I panicked but before I could react, the increasing weight of the water with me in it broke open a hole at bottom underneath my feet. I was now floundering and flailing around in a green watery trap!  

I had already slung my rifle. My extended arms to each side was the only thing that kept me from falling through into certain death beneath me as the water was now almost up to my neck. Completely waterlogged, my struggle became even more desperate and I grasped at the sides of pit seizing handfuls of turf to slow my descent. Instinctively, I tried to spread my body out as best as I could so that the center of gravity was less concentrated at my feet; gravity that was slowly pulling me down into an abyss I was too terrified to even consider. 

Inch by inch I started to crawl out of the bottom. Flat on my belly now I squirmed up the slope of the water filled crater. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally made it up to the rim and up to the flatter terrain of the meadow. On my hands and knees and dragging my rifle in the muck (amazingly I had managed to save my Ruger .338 magnum), I finally felt firmer ground beneath me. I leaned back on my elbows breathing heavily from sheer exhaustion, glad to be alive. I started shaking uncontrollably from the crash of massive amounts of adrenaline coursing through my body that kept me jittery all the way back to camp. 

Later, sitting around the fire with roasting graying in several pans I told Randy and Jim about my escape from the green pit of doom.  Randy roared with laughter. He was from Minnesota and he told me that what I had tried to walk across was called a floating bog. He shook his head and said, “Nobody in their right mind back home would ever try to walk across a floating bog” and added, “Hell, people disappear into those things and they never find their bodies.”  A shudder ran up my back at the thought of it.  

Our failed efforts thus far to find a moose had us frustrated and a little desperate. Even split by three, we had all spent a lot of money for this trip, which we hoped would be compensated with a winter’s supply of moose meat.  

Good ideas sometimes spring from desperation, so do bad ones. 

I don’t remember which one us came up with the scheme. Since nothing was working for us during the day, we all agreed to head out after dinner in the still pale light of the evening and park ourselves in ambush on a night hunt.  We would paddle across the lake in the dinghy and wait until dark at the edge of big clearing on the other side for a moose to walk into our trap. Well, that was the plan anyway.  

As we paddled across we heard a sound we had been hearing for days now only this time it was close. Though closer and louder, we still couldn’t figure out the source of that sound. It was like somebody on the shore had picked up a big rock and thrown it in the water with a sort gushing thump. Odd, but we shrugged it off in our excitement as we hit the shore, unloaded ourselves and our rifles from the raft and headed to our rendezvous with a big fat bull moose waiting for us to shoot it.  

We settled into a nice spot that had a good view of a clearing just as it got dark. After a while, we started getting sleepy and decided to keep watch in shifts. One of us would keep an eye out for anything, while two of us would try to catch a little sleep. It was a moonless night and dark as pitch. There was a slight overcast so there was not even starlight for our eyes to adjust to. It was getting cold and a heavy dew was settling on us chilling us to the bone. We persisted in our rotating watches for several more hours until finally Jim exclaimed, “This is ridiculous, I am going back!” He said Randy and I could use the dinghy and that he would walk around the lake to get back to camp on the other side. Grumbling to himself, he disappeared into night as he headed off into brush towards camp. 

 After a while Randy said something that up to that point hadn’t occurred to any of us the whole hapless evening, “What if we do heard a moose?” He didn’t say “see.” I lifted my rifle up and looked down the barrel to align the sights. I couldn’t see the first sight yet alone the second sight at the end of the barrel. Feeling a little stupid and sheepish we both laughed at ourselves and said in unison, “Let’s get out of here.” 

At the lake shore we found the dinghy, plopped into it and pushed away from shore with the paddles. We had paddled for only a minutes or so before we heard that plop in the water we had been hearing for days, but it was REALLY close. “What the hell is that,” Randy whispered. When it happened again right next to our little rubber island we nervously picked up the pace.  

That lake like the night was jet black and both us had visions of a punctured raft and a cold watery death. For me, after the events of the pit of doom it was like a reoccurring nightmare. Splash! This time so close the ripples rocked the dinghy. Abandoning all calm we started paddling frantically, both us scared shitless. We flailed at the water like madmen, soaking ourselves in the process. Water was beginning to collect on the floor of the raft, which panicked us even further. I felt like my heart was going to leap out of my chest it was beating so hard from sheer terror. Several more slashes tormented us before finally reached the far shore. In the dark we tumbled out of the raft shaking with fear but laughing our asses off in nervous relief.  

I thought Jim was going to pee himself he laughed so hard when we recounted the hair-raising story the next morning. Then, we all got a good laugh a little later when, as we were fishing for grayling on the shore of the lake in front of camp, a beaver casually paddled by right in front us and whacked his big flat tail on the water. THAT SOUND!  All along, he had been whacking his tail on the water as a warning to us interlopers that this was his lake and that we were not welcome.           

After three days of tracking and wildness hijinks we hadn’t seen any sign of moose, not a single hoof print or a pile of moose nugget scat to lend us the slightest hope of success. Time was running out. The float plane was going to pick us up early the next morning. All of us by now had pretty much resigned ourselves to having to brag about a really great fishing trip instead of a victorious moose hunt. 

Latter in the day, Randy and I decided to make one more serious foray, hoping for the best but not really expecting much.  

After beating a trail widely circling around the lake for several hours, we were ready to call it quits and pointed ourselves back towards camp. Then, we both spotted a brown hump just slightly above the tall grass on the other side of a broad glade. It was a hot, late summer day and we figured a moose had made a wallow to rest from the heat of the day and was laying in it with its tall back exposed. We were both certain it was a moose. It turned out we were right.  

Bent in the hunter’s pose, we quietly crouched across the meadow, the safety on our guns off. We were both ready to raise and sight our rifles at any moment as we drew closer to the brown hump. Soon enough we would stir a big moose and get it to raise up so we could get a clear shot. The thrill of the hunt, the rush from the adrenaline jolt that all hunters crave was on us. But we had to be careful. We didn’t want to flush it too soon. Moose are much faster than they look. If it bolted towards the nearby forest edge into thick black spruce and scrub alder before we could draw a clear bead it would be gone for good. There would be no tracking anything is that tangle. 

 At first, Randy and I congratulated ourselves on our stealth. We both felt lucky that we had gotten this close and that it hadn’t yet detected our approach. As we got even closer it still didn't move. Things were beginning to feel odd. Something was wrong about this.  

As we slowly and quietly reached the edge of the wallow we could clearly see the whole of the round matted area of grass where the moose lay as if sleeping. It took a few seconds to register and then Randy and I both gasped as we realized what we were looking at. The big bull was completely intact except for the gory gap at the top of its skull where its antlers should have been (the largest of any deer species). An impressive rack had no doubt crowned this magnificent animal. Now, it just lay there rotting, minus its antlers. It had been killed so recently that there was no detectible smell of putrid flesh or decay. Randy startled me when yelled, "FUCK!"  I shook my head and muttered angrily, "Goddamned trophy hunters."  Stunned, we both fell back on our asses in the grass and tried to process the despicable travesty and waste before us. After a while, we both glumly pulled ourselves together. Sickened and disgusted we silently trudged back to camp.  

Something in me broke that day, maybe changed is a better word. Whatever it was, my heart was no longer in it and I knew that there would never again be joy in hunting for me.  

It would be the last hunting trip of my life.

Over Our Heads 

Here's another excerpt from my upcoming memoir, A River Knows My Name.   Sometimes in life you just have to believe that the way forward will only appear after you step out of your comfort zone.  I hope you enjoy:   

It was getting on toward evening now, and the late sun had lightened the sky a little, but dusk was not far off.  We trudged along the darkening slope, broken continually by large rotting trees that now created often insurmountable obstacles due to the steep contour of the slope.  Going up or down several hundred feet was exhausting and progress, slow.  The day’s effort had taken its toll and I was nearing a state of exhaustion.   We were a mile from the slide and as our tired legs worked their way over the uneven slope, light was growing ahead and before we even reached it, a dejection came over the group.  In moments we were standing on the lip of another canyon, and this time there would be no crossing it as vertical rock fell from our feet to the floor of the canyon easily a hundred or more feet below.  Even with fresh legs and lots of light, this looked impassable unless one was a mountain goat.   Dixon pulled out the map and we sat down.  The descending slope was so steep there was no feasible way we could see setting up even an emergency camp.  “We gotta go down,” said Dixon studying the map.  

“You sure about that?” 

“No.” 

“What about up?” 

He pointed at the dark contour lines.  The gorge only deepened and impassable cliffs lay above us.   We slowly started picking our way down the slope.  The sonorous roar of the river deep below us grew louder and as it did, the way became steeper.  Eventually we could see a bead of white and blue water about a hundred feet below.  On the rim of the canyon to our left flowed the creek that was blocking our way as it rushed down to meet the Klallam canyon below us.  Down, down down we descended, ever so carefully finally stopping on a ledge at the intersection of the two canyons about thirty feet directly over the Klallam.  The beach was littered with torn logs and jagged broken boulders.  To downclimb to the river would take great care as one slip would send a person tumbling to his death.  But there was no choice.   I felt my heart beating in my throat.  “I’ll go first,” said Seth.  “Lower the packs down to me.” 

“What about the dogs?” 

“We’ll have to lower them too.”  The dogs were subdued as if they sensed the gravity of the situation.  They wagged and trembled on the ledge as Seth descended, using saplings, and hand holds as he down climbed toward the beach below.  What seemed like an eternity later, he had made it and was looking up, laughing.  “It’s not so bad,” he yelled.  

We began tying the packs and lowering them down one by one to the canyon floor as he untied them and sent the rope back up.  (The rope turned out to be a godsend and the reason we avoided catastrophe.)    

Finally, it was time for the dogs and thank God he also brought a harness.  We put the harness on Bert, and the dog whimpered as he sensed what was about to happen.  Then, with the rope around a tree, Creed, Lane, and I held tight while Dixon pushed the terrified animal into space as he clawed wildly at the air, shrieking and whimpering.  Immediately we loosened our grip as he slid a few feet below the ledge with nothing more to attach his paws to.  Hanging there, the writhing animal tested our stamina on the rope, but we held firm and down he went foot by foot until Seth was able to hold him in space and set the grateful dog gently on the beach.  “Good job!”   He untied the rope and sent it back up.  Trushka was next.  It was all I could do to hold her and keep her from running after Bert.     Somehow, we managed to get her in the harness before she could fall.   She made the rest easy as she ran off the ledge and into space all on her own.   Down she went all the way down into Seth’s arms.    Now it was up to the rest of us to each get down to that beach without injury.   

There is something about watching someone engaging in a hazardous activity like cliff climbing that makes it far more stressful than engaging in that same activity yourself.   The rest of us descended one by one as Seth called out instructions about where to place feet and hands.  It was absolutely nerve wracking, and the feeling we were entering a trap grew as the light from the sky faded.  It was dusk with darkness coming fast when we were all finally on the beach together at the bottom of the Klallam canyon.  We filled our water bottles and stared in awe at where we were.   The canyon walls rose all around us and out from the canyon coming off Tst́iláalati spat a thundering creek.   As we looked upstream from the intersections of the two canyons, our hearts sank.   With the vertical canyon walls rising from the river, it disappeared in a darkening chasm ahead with no beach on either side.  Dixon looked up from the map, then pointed to it.  “About a quarter mile upstream there’s a flat area, see?”  He pointed to the place he described on the map.  

“Looks like we gotta wade the river.”    But to even begin wading the river meant we had to first cross the whitewater stream gushing down from Tst́iláalati.   The speed at which it fell into the river more than made up for its size in terms of the hazard of crossing.  One slip could have immediate and potentially lethal consequences as we had landed on the only place there was a beach.  Directly downstream below the confluence, the river fell out of sight into a foamy chasm of glistening black rock and boiling spray.   

 

Crazy Ivan 

 

I wasn't far into the story before a familiar feeling of dread welled up in me.  I knew that this hunting trip in the desert with Crazy Ivan was not going to go according to plan.  I'm glad you survived to tell about it and see why it's so clearly etched into your brain. Thank you Kurt Dunbar for the wonderful read:  

My mother worked as a waitress in the showroom at Harrah’s Casino in Lake Tahoe.  Occasionally, we would meet her co-workers who came over for dinner or to the many BBQs they hosted in our big pine strewn back lot of a yard.  

One memorable character was a Hungarian expat, a refugee from the failed 1956 revolt against the Soviets. Loud and larger than life, Ivan drank too much and never stopped talking.  His thick Magyar accent only got thicker the drunker he got. My folks, both casino workers, were partiers and drinkers themselves and seemed indifferent to their drinker friends’ antics, including and perhaps especially Ivan. My brothers and sisters all got a kick out of the guy and loved his visits. 

One Friday, Ivan showed up at our house. After talking to my mom for a few minutes she said, “Who wants to go hunting with Ivan for the weekend?”  My brothers and I all looked at each other and almost in unison said, “I do!”  

Apparently, they had struck a deal. Ivan could borrow our trusty four-wheel-drive International pick-up IF he took us. I don’t know how happy he was that all of us brothers had thrown in to go but if he objected or was disappointed he didn’t show it. My mom said to grab our sleeping bags and some food from the kitchen. We raided the refrigerator for some apples and the cupboard for a couple of cans of stew and chili and, serendipity, a bag of marshmallows!    

Ivan had fewer provisions: a can of beans and a package of hotdogs. A wool blanket was the extent of his camping gear. No tent.  

What Ivan did have was a beautiful Italian-made automatic 12 gauge shotgun. I had never seen such a fine gun in my life. All of the guns I was familiar with were run of the mill (literally) shotguns and rifles that were scarred, scored and worn from age and frequent use; serviceable but not showy. Ivan’s gun was a work of art by comparison. The blued metal, which looked like oil on water was etched with fancy scroll work and intricate swirls of oak leaves and acorns. The butt had a layer of inlaid ivory between the thin green felt layers of padding. The tip of the barrel had a tiny bright red glass bead for a sight.  

We only had one shotgun, a beat up and weathered side-by-side double barreled Stevens 12 gauge. Loaded with rifle slugs instead of shot, many times I had hauled that thing up mountainsides, along ridges and through the woods hunting deer with my grandfather. I had a love-hate relationship with that gun but it was all we had between the three of us brothers. Kris was too small, probably seven or eight, to handle it anyway. My brother Karl and I would have to switch off and share it.  

We packed everything into the bed of the International and headed off with all four of us stuffed into the cab.  

It was later in the afternoon and Ivan gunned the truck down the road at break neck maximum trying get some distance before it got dark. I don’t know why he was in such a hurry because he never stopped that night. To this day I am not sure where we going or where we ended up. All I remember is that the sun was setting when we passed through Reno and all of its bright neon casino lights. From there I am not sure if we went north or west. I had no frame of reference because I had never been north or west of Reno before.   

I stayed awake most of that night too. At first it was from excitement and a sense of adventure but later it was from dash-gripping terror. Ivan was not only a speeder, he had some sort of grisly vendetta against rabbits. Every time he would spot a jack rabbit in the headlights ahead on the road or even on the gravel shoulder he would swerve to run it over. A couple of times we fishtailed dangerously throwing up dust and pebble in our wake as he tried to plow down some hapless hare on the edge of the road. Crazy Ivan my brothers and I started to call him, quietly and among ourselves of course. 

 It was a frightening and exhausting night and we were all glad when the dawning light stated to illuminate the desert sky. After it was fully light, Ivan, almost certainly at randomly, turned off a narrow dirt road and plunged the truck deeper into the sprawling country-side of tall sage. To our relief he had to slow down quite a bit to negotiate an occasional washout, pothole or a rock in the road. Still, he was pushing our sturdy pick-up to the limit as we bumped and jerked our way down that dusty track. I was certain that something was going to break before too long, though it never did. That International could take a beating. It would be our first vehicle in Alaska many years later after my step-dad used it to haul a large camp trailer up the Alcan Highway to Seward, Alaska during the heyday of the oil boom and pipeline construction.  

We drove for hours until Ivan seemed satisfied with the country and started searching for a suitable place to stop and set up camp. He settled for a nice but small patch of grass next to a little mountain brook. 

It was enough of a haven to park the truck and lay out four sleeping spots for the night. I figured it was probably around noon by the time we had finished unloading the truck and laying out our sleeping bags on sage and grass mats. We even built a lean-to of willow boughs and a tarp we found that had already been in the truck. Combined with a couple of large rocks as primitive tables this set-up served as our improvised camp kitchen.  It was starting to get hot as the morning progressed into the early afternoon. This plus being overheated from setting up camp and lack of sleep us boys were ready for a rest and maybe even a nap. As I prepared to bed down for a while Ivan announced that we were going hunting, now. My experience told me that you don’t hike, hunt or beat around on foot in desert country in the prime heat of the day. Had this guy never been in the desert?  Clearly a rhetorical question. 

My brother Karl and I filled our Boy Scout canteens in the cold steam and handed them to Kris. Too little to hump the gun around, he was going to be the water boy. Ivan of course didn’t have a canteen so he used an old green Coca Cola bottle that he found under the seat of the truck. He filled it in the creek and stuck it in the back pocket of his denim jeans. I grabbed the shotgun and a pocket full of shells as we headed out into the bright day and glaring heat.   

We were looking primarily for chukar.  Sometimes referred to as partridge, this little game bird is actually part of the pheasant family of birds. It is similar in size to a quail. Like the golden pheasant (introduced from China), chukar has been introduced from its range in the Middle East and South Asia to the American west by elite bird hunters. They had flourished. Nevada was teeming with them or so Ivan had been told.  

Not following the dirt road or even a rough game trail, Ivan led us across country, hill and ridge into one thicket of sage and willow after another hoping to flush the birds out of their mid-day repose. Unlike the mad Hungarian ahead of us, chukar knew enough to stay out of heat of the afternoon. He would occasionally lean down and scoop up a rock or stick and throw it ahead of him into the brush shotgun posed at the ready to bag a feathered prize as it took flight. 

After an hour or so of this fruitless routine my brothers and I were hot and sweaty, dog-tired, and hungry. We glowering and brooded with the impatience of young boys. We hadn’t seen so much as feather.  

In Ivan’s mania to shoot some birds, the last thing he wanted was to drag around three sullen red-faced boys. “Go back to camp,” he said.  He didn’t have to say that twice. 

I think more than anything, we were worn down by Ivan’s frenetic pace. He didn’t walk as much he speed-walked, interspersed with a full jog at times. In the heat, I don’t know how he did it. He hadn’t slept or eaten either but it didn’t seem to affect him in the least. I don’t even recall him sweating. 

Once parted from the mad Hungarian we slowed our pace for the first time since we had left camp.  We paused to rest occasionally, sip some water, and take in the desert quiet and solitude. The sky was so blue it hurt your eyes. In several directions giant behemoths of rolling thunderheads towered high into the stratosphere. We could even see far off, gray cloudbursts falling from their flat undersides to the desert floor. Flash flood country I thought to myself. 

Once we cooled off a bit, we decided to not go directly back to camp. Pretty much giving up shooting anything, we explored a few canyons and arroyos while meandering our way back to camp.  

We walked out of a narrow rocky canyon that opened up into a somewhat broader canyon, almost a valley. Out sneakers kicked up dark orange dust as we walked among the endless clumps of sagebrush. It was beautiful country.  Then all of us at once heard it. No clouds were near us but it sounded a lot like thunder, and pretty close at that. But the sound was constant, getting louder and it seemed to be getting closer. Thunder doesn’t do that.  

Then, far down the canyon we spotted a dust cloud. The dust cloud was getting bigger and the thunderous roar louder by the second. It looked like the old photos I had seen in school when we studied the Dust Bowl. I remembered because I thought it cool that the Okies and Dokies called them black blizzards; massive dust storms. But the sight down that canyon was smaller and moving really fast.  And that roar!  It was heading straight for us. We stood transfixed. Then we spotted movement in the swirling tumult of the dust cloud.  

Horses!? 

It was a herd of mustangs, and a fairly large one at that. Still heading in a beeline right towards us we began to make out more and more moving shapes in the dust as the living maelstrom approached us. It was too late to run for cover or high ground so we huddled together as tight as possible with little Kris between Karl and I. The noise now was deafening and we could feel the earth tremble beneath our feet.  

It had been my turn to carry the shotgun so as we crowded together I raised the gun into the air almost vertically. Just as it seemed the herd was going to bowl over us and trample us under their hoofs I fired both barrels in quick succession. The din from the herd around us was so loud that I only knew the gun had gone off by the jerk of the recoil. I never heard the report of those blasts and neither I am certain did the mustangs.  

Just as the wild horses were on us and our doom seemed assured, the herd parted and went around us close on each side, but never close enough to harm anything except our nerves. Before the dust even settled, the dozens of horses were around us and gone out of sight taking the thunder with them around the bend at other end of the canyon. We were covering with a thick rusty colored coating from head to toe. We patted the canyon floor off of our clothes and out of our hair as we laughed hysterically at having dodged certain death.  

It seems like a dream as I write of it over fifty years later, one those incredible random moments that will forever remain seared into my memory.    

By the way, we never did bag any chukar, much to Ivan’s disappointment.  

    

One Last Look 

 

The following story is a great reminder to always look back (unless you're running for your life I suppose).   You never know what you might otherwise miss.  Thanks to Beth Redman for submitting this:                                                                    

I hiked the estuary loop at Sitka Sedge today.  They had fixed the trail that had been closed since last fall, and I am happy it is now open.  I hung out at the bench at the estuary, watching for possible eagles.  A young eagle, a juvenile but old enough to have a white head, had got real close to me the year before at that same spot.  Then I hiked onward to the beach. 

Feeling light and happy I found a nice log just within the dunes watching the waves, hoping I might catch a glimpse of the migrating gray whales on their journey northward. Before long, it was time to go.  I started hiking out, before my intuition told me I should take one last look at the ocean.  I took off my pack and set it down in the sand.

                                                                                         

I was immensely rewarded to see the blow of a whale!  Getting out binoculars, I kept looking.  Then I saw more gray whales in the same location!  I confirmed these were indeed whales, at least two, as I was lucky enough to see the fins! 

I will always remember to take one last look whenever I return to this magical spot.

Trip to Neah Bay 

My kids and I camped for two nights at Hobuck Beach, where the wind howled nonstop.   The beaches were empty, and beside a few dogs making the rounds, there was not a whole lot of activity.   In other words, it was perfect. 

Gazing southward through the mist at the ghostly spires past Shi Shi Beach known as Point of Arches, I felt the subtle yearning for a full pack and three or four days to wander those desolate beaches south to the Ozette River or beyond. 

  

Gazing Northward from Cape Flattery, Vancouver Island was a blue dreamscape seems to stretch infinitely to the edge of the earth. 

We explored the area, played some music around the fire, and did a little fly fishing off the jetty. 

Casey caught a beautiful rockfish we added to our dinner.  I cannot adequately express my gratitude to the Makah People and how they welcome us whenever we visit their their sacred lands.   

It was a privilege to visit this special place, and something I will always cherish.  

Springtime Gratitude 

As I come into the spring of 2022, I am grateful.  My life is much different than it was four years ago, with changes I could not possibly have imagined.  Yet, here I am with a heart full of gratitude as I reflect upon the many blessings in my life.    

I have three of the most beautiful kids a father could ever want, and I could never find words adequate to describe what they mean to me.  I get to play music with these same people, who have grown into incredible musicians and singers in their own right.  I have a wonderful dog and a couple of silly cats.  I have a peaceful life in the country, a meaningful job  with great coworkers, and I know the riches of friendship.  I often wake up to the sound of Canadian geese, and always to the song of the Nooksack.  Just a few minutes ago, there was a heron outside my window, staring at me.  Yes, I am rich.  

I’m also very fortunate to live close to the foothills where I can walk almost daily in solitude with my dog.  In some ways, this place might not seem that special—a logging road that bears the generational scars of overcutting, but it’s special to me in that I’m able to embrace a measure of solitude if even for a brief moment almost daily.  It’s a place that I have come to know on a very intimate basis.  Sometimes when I have my daughter, we go together, other times I might go with a friend, but most often, I’m by myself.   The road ascends along a gushing creek for a mile or so before climbing steeply through both forest and clear cut.  Sometimes I climb high, but most often due to time constraints, I only go for a couple of miles before turning back.  Every season there has its magic, and the view down the Nooksack toward the lowlands of Whatcom County is astonishing, the higher you go.  Whether I’m walking through sheets of driving rain, or climbing in shorts and a t-shirt, it’s always beautiful in its own way.  I've seen some of the most incredible sunsets and have been up there in the dead of night.  

I do a lot of thinking when I’m out there pushing up the hill.  I’ve also seen lots of wildlife, too.  Deer, opossums, cougar, and bear are among the animals that have crossed my path.  I once felt my very life depended on those uphill rides and climbs, but not so much anymore.  I've found the rhythm of walking to be a healing act.  Nature is a powerful medicine. 

My wish for you this spring is that you relish as I do, the simple joy of walking, the treasure of family, the wondrous songs of returning birds, and the first trembling green shoots of new life bursting forth from the earth.    

I have gratitude for you, and am richer for the stories you have shared with me.  I hope they continue.  May this time of year be a time of renewal for you and may peace prevail on Earth.