So, here I was, married to a Game Guide and I had always wanted to see animals in the wild. Earle told me, OK, you want to just see them and not kill any, right? I was horrified at the idea of killing any (I was a city girl!), so I agreed. He warned me we would have to hike where nobody else went, but that I would see all the wild animals I would ever wanted to see.
We drove way up the Alaskan Highway, past King Mountain, toward Valdez. He pulled the camper over and we ate our dinner and went to bed early. About three, he woke me up. I didn't want to get up - it was ll cozy in my sleeping bag and I had been dreaming. Besides, I could see my breath so I knew it was colder than I liked. He insisted, so I made myself get up.
After a quick, cold breakfast, and putting some sandwiches and a thermos of milk in our packs, we were off, in the near dark.
I stumbled after Earle, who, as usual seemed to know exactly where he was going. Along the way were lots of blueberries, ripe and frozen on the bushes. I would pop a few in my mouth every few feet and enjoy the rush of flavors as they thawed.
After topping the crest of the mountain and heading down the other side as the sun rose up high, we started to get hot. Now, I tied my coat around my waist and had to fan away mosquitoes, attracted to our sweaty brows.
For hours we traipsed through the tundra, which causes you to step up, then down for the next step, making you feel there is no stable bottom to the earth. Finally he said this was a good spot to take a nap. I was enraged - he got me up in the middle of the night and now that we were out in the hot sunlight we were going to SLEEP?
Yup, replied Earle, getting out the space blanket and spreading it out to lie down on. He suggested I get mine out to put over us. Well, there was not use arguing with Earle once he made up his mind, so I complied, still fuming.
About an hour later, I awoke because Earle was tickling my hand. When I opened my eyes he whispered, "Don't move or make a noise, just watch - you are safe." Now, I realized that we were surrounded by all sorts of critters. A cow moose was licking my boots, while her calf was eating within arm's reach. There was a fox, lying down near Earle's side. Squirrels, marmots and birds were all near and running right over us, making noises on the space blanket. They all seemed unconcerned. Slowly, Earle sat up, taking a sandwich out of his pack. The animals all moved a bit away, but came back as he started to eat. He made noises like a moose, and mama moose came over to sniff him better. The fox came around and stuck his nose in my hair and sniffed it. Earle gave me a sandwich and I slowly sat up, amid our animal kingdom friends. It was a magical time, one I have never duplicated. The animals hung around until they seemed bored with us, then slowly, one by one, they wandered off. I always thought Earle was a sort of Dr. Doolittle of the wilderness. He always could imitate the sounds the animals made, which is probably why he was a successful Game Guide.
Ellen Northup has lived in Alaska for 30 years and now runs the Juneau Senior Center downtown. She lived many years in the Interior with her husband, who was an Alaskan game guide out of Slana.
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