A moose’s upper lip, stronger than a horse’s, reaches to grasp last summer’s dried growth on the tops of narrowleaf willows, and strips the branches clean.
Spring comes to the trees by way of 32-degree-and-upwards soil temperatures. Not by air or water. Thirty-two-degree earth triggers the release of sugars stored in the roots. Maybe I got that all wrong.
There is a snowshoe hare living near the cabin, and red squirrels in the roof.
I want to see a snowshoe hare. And red squirrels. I have heard their voices. I want to hear a wolf howl. I want to see a lynx. I want to see a wolf.
Tyler saw a butterfly today, where he sat in the sparkling shale of Savage Rock.
The water sounds different each day. Frozen to melting.
I want to see a Dall sheep.
Today I felt the sun.
Today we watched fifteen caribou down there in the bottom of the valley that is maybe not really a valley but the wide riparian corridor of the braided Savage River, the caribou nosing along as if nuzzling new shoots up through the ice. Willow stalks placed intermittently have me wondering if it is river bottom or valley floor beneath the snow. Beneath the hooves of fifteen caribou.
While the weather warms each day this side of the equinox, snow still covers much of the country we see from the thirteen miles of Park Road we are free to travel. The mountains of the Alaska Range surround us, quite literally—every inch of our 360-degree horizon is dominated by mountains, backed in the west by the 20,320-foot grandeur of Denali herself, visible on clear stretches of morning. As spring inches its way into the park, dark outlines of ridges poke through their snow cover, and south-facing slopes become textured with alternating white fields and patches of dark moist soil. The dominant white spruce, trunks brown and branches green, further texture the lower slopes, and in the bottomlands the narrowleaf willows grow.
The colors of caribou. Amidst this carnal landscape caribou blend, their legs dark brown to black like tree trunks and this rich earth, their throats white as sunlit cloud, their sides muted and ribbed like last year’s willows. I didn’t know I would love caribou with the same ache I do mustangs. But I do.
Photos by Tyler Lausten