Wednesday Notes from Denali

“A caribou’s hind feet are smaller than its front feet.”

“Snowshoe hares have dwindled in number dramatically.”

Northern lights: Tyler sees green when I see white. The camera shows green.


Photo by Tyler of his cold (not old!) mother

When someone says how dry Alaska is, ask him or her, compared to what? Anchorage and Talkeetna and Denali National Park are not dry compared to the high desert of the Colorado Plateau; therefore this cold is colder, to me.

Read all the literature provided, carefully. Reread all literature provided. Notice the details of your accommodations.

Bring sweat pants. Always. Just do.

If the northern lights are going off mildly, and you’re sick, and it’s 2 a.m., go back to bed.

Listen to what your son wants. Follow his lead. Then go back to bed.

Wildlife does not appear because you want it to. It appears because it’s going about its life with complete disregard to you. You’re either there to witness, or you’re not: Wildlife does not care.

This is not true of all species of wildlife.

It appears to be true of caribou.

Caribou appear completely indifferent. They lie down within sight of the noisy red metal box containing two-leggeds down there on the road.

The park service [Mesa Verde] says mustangs are not wildlife. Adult mustangs in the wild will not lie down in the presence of humans, like caribou do. Ever.

Moose seem to pay more attention to the presence of humans than caribou. They glance between branches of white spruce and then wander in a direction away from you.

“Five percent of caribou [that you see within a few miles of the park headquarters] are acclimated to the noise and activity of the park. The rest [of the caribou] are elsewhere.”

Like thirty-five miles elsewhere, says Tyler.

Tyler retains facts better than I do.

I don’t remember well under pressure.

I don’t write well under pressure.

Tracks in deep snow are hard to identify. Especially when you sink to your quads while trying to do so.

Moose and caribou tracks, while different, blur in deep snow.

“So-and-so’s wife saw a lynx climbing down a tree the other night.”

Just because someone’s wife saw a lynx climbing face first down a spruce tree the other night doesn’t mean you will.

Just because a helicopter spotted nine wolves, some of them collared, feeding on a freshly killed moose, doesn’t mean you will.

Just because someone else is warm in Alaska doesn’t mean you will be warm in Alaska.

Just because someone is from Alaska doesn’t mean you should assume she is warm when you are cold in Alaska.

Trust your intuition. Trust your son’s intuition. Trust your sons’ intuition.

Trust surprises.

Trust your need to rest.

Trust that you will find the words.

Trust that you must drink more water even if it means you have to bundle up to go out in the middle of the frozen night to pee in the communal facilities because the park service doesn’t want everyone peeing next to the buildings.

Trust that this is not a good day to wash your hair.

But it is a good day to go outside. They all are.

5 thoughts on “Wednesday Notes from Denali

  1. i hear you…and feel the disconnectedness, a fondness for a dryer snow, adoration Glad Tyler is there. Beautiful prints you showed us, thank you. What are the words supposed to do, those Denali inspired words? Or are you to free range idea, scrape at the ground for them, taste a twig for them, wait for a lynx maybe she is your muse, or maybe its Tyler, right there all the time.

    • Thank you for your comments–yes, having Tyler with me is wonderful. It makes for its own special kind of trip. Further words will come from whatever source they choose. The Park Service just wants to hear of my authentic experience. Free range, as you say.

  2. Ah! These are authentic words that you won’t read anywhere else in “the literature” – no matter how many times you read it. And for that reason, these are valued words! Fascinating observations about caribou and moose … and mustangs. 🙂 All wildlife that are adapted to their “ranges”!

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