Letter from Alaska to home, which means you, my cowboy son, home in my stead while your brother and I traipse through the wilds of Alaska without you in body, but with you in spirit. Here you would find that other part of yourself, the part that is not father and husband or son but the boy who grew up on ranches and in wild country with wild cattle and sheep and goats and boar, blacktail deer, black bears, bobcats, and mountain lion. Here you would look at tracks in the snow and be able to tell moose from caribou even when the tracks are two feet deep. You would guess where the wolves are and how they will travel, and you would know how to wait out a lynx or a snowshoe hare. You may not see it all but you would feel it with the hairs on your neck and the thrill in your gut and your hunter-gatherer instincts that have spanned your years and generations.
You would marvel at mountains like your brother, like your mother, and find the holes in a braided river where fish lurk in summer, and with your brother you would climb toward Dall sheep and clouds.
We will come here one day when the kids are bigger so that moose and caribou are not just the stuffed animals I will bring home to them but are as recognizable as mustangs and elk and mule deer to your children who already know those wild animals and have also seen black bear.
We will come in summer and I will worry about this new bear, brown and tall, they might see up here as we ride the tour buses deep into the park on the miles of Denali Park Road not open today to Tyler and me. They will see rivers and mountains and this place Alaska with you, their cowboy dad, and because they will see it with you they will see more than they would with anybody else, because you will have eyes for it all. For the big and the little of Alaska.
You may miss the Northern Lights because it will be summer but you will see lots of sunlight and still snow on the peaks of the Alaska Range and always on Denali. And the moose and caribou will have antlers spanning their seasons and the grizzlies will be fishing in the same rivers you will want to and maybe a wolf will howl.
The bugs will be out then and they will annoy you and your kids and your wife and Tyler and me but it can’t be helped. Like this one large black fly noisily orbiting my head here in Savage Cabin, bugs are part of the experience, like the smell of white gas and the quiet roar of the lantern lit so that I can see what I’m writing.
And I wonder this: With all the wildlife and the water and the shifting landforms and 20,320-foot Denali, will it feel wild? Maybe if wolves howl louder than the air and road traffic it will. Maybe if you travel away from the road and can sit quietly witnessing caribou the way we do mustangs at home there in Disappointment Valley, it will. Maybe for Tyler it does as he chases Northern Lights, the only one on the road in the middle of the night.
Here I sit in this log cabin with the lantern burning and the wood stove toasting and sweet hot honeyed tea made from snow-water boiled atop the stove warming my hands and belly, and there’s no running water here and we’re instructed to pee in the lee of the north side of this small bit of history and red squirrels still scratch across the roof in the dark, and I feel it—the human memory of the wild.