Note: Tyler and I are back in our separate homes, separate states, separate states of being. I don’t have access to his photographs to accompany this possibly last Alaska post. My apologies!
Chinese Rescue Remedy
On the package: Ingredients: Brown rice, rice, husked lotus, pearl barley, buckwheat, oatmeal, pea, small red bean, mung bean, speckled kidney bean, black soy bean, black glutinous rice, corn, egg powder, palm oil, granulated sugar, soy sauce powder (soybeans, wheat, salt, sugar), sugar.
This was a day of Tyler sleeping late after a third night of chasing Northern Lights, and me writing in the quiet morning, followed by discussions with park people on human noise and geology (separate discussions). After that intensity of learning, we rested again then set out to see the evening light, and maybe critters.
No critters, but at the end of the road there were two sets of two people who had made the hike over the top from the Savage Cabin site to Savage Rock (we drove this length, as we’ve done two or three times a day since arriving, privileged as Artist-in-Residence to pass through the barricade at mile 12.5). Guiltily I drove past the first pair and readied to pass the second couple walking along the road to complete their round-trip, six-mile hike.
At first I thought they were kidding when they stuck their thumbs out, but I stopped.
“Are you going back to the parking lot?” the man asked, his English broken but clear.
“We’re driving by it,” I said. It’s the only way out—one road in to the Savage River Bridge, the same road back out.
“May we have a ride?”
I looked at Tyler, who shrugged. We could not say no. I threw the stuff from the backseat of the borrowed red Subaru Forester into the way-back, and the couple climbed in.
“Did you go on the Savage Alpine Loop trail?” I asked, driving slowly along, scanning white spruce and snow patches for caribou.
They started talking.
“I was so scared,” the woman said, her lips painted bright red, her black hair capped with fur that almost looked real.
“We lost the trail,” the man said.
“It was so slippery,” she said.
“The snow?” I asked.
“Ice. And rocks. Our friends turned around halfway. Maybe a third. And we kept going.”
“There were people in front of us,” said the man, who was probably in his mid-thirties. “And then they disappeared.”
Tyler and I were just making conversation, listening to their story, meandering back to their starting point, where their friends would be waiting. We were not taking much seriously. “Where are you from?” I asked.
“Chicago,” the man said, and his woman nodded in my rearview mirror, her accent more Americanized than his. She wore tight pink ski pants. I wanted to see her shoes.
“What brought you to Alaska in winter?” I asked.
“The Northern Lights,” the man said. Tyler and I exchanged glances. We’d been hearing about the Aurora Borealis and the rumored Japanese belief that activity under the Northern Lights influences conception positively. Having just watched that particular episode of Northern Exposure before we came, I had told Tyler about it, but the Internet denies that the belief comes from Japan.
This couple was not Japanese, and I did not ask them more as reality started to set in: Their friends’ truck was not among the four vehicles remaining in the parking lot; the light was low, graying.
But, “Maybe they just went up the road to look around,” I offered. Tyler and I had not seen a black Dodge Ram as we drove in, but we had not driven through the barricade without entering the parking lot.
“It’s okay,” said the man. “We can wait here. Or walk.”
“It’s over twelve miles back,” I said. They’d already walked more than four, were clearly exhausted, and night would fall long before they got anywhere. “And there’s no cell service.”
As I moseyed out of the parking lot, the woman said, “We left at two.”
“It’s after seven now,” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “I was scared for that long.”
“We had to make our own trail down the mountain,” said the man.
I was calculating. Five hours for four miles! Again I wanted to see their shoes as my own hiking boot pushed down on the gas pedal. Clearly their missing friends had been worried and gone for help. No more photos of evening light for us, no more camouflaged caribou or munching moose as I matched the speed limit back toward park headquarters.
As soon as Tyler’s phone got service, he handed it to them (their AT&T phones didn’t work). They called their friends, in quick Cantonese exchanging stories. The friends had gone looking for rangers or other helpfuls and found no one. It was after hours. They called the dispatcher, leaving a message. When we pulled into the Murie Science and Learning Center parking lot, the driver’s window in the lone vehicle—the black Dodge Ram—rolled down.
“Oh my god,” said the man. “We didn’t know what to do. We saw the people who went up the trail first come back, and we saw the people who went in after come back. We thought you’d been eaten by bears!”
The passenger in my backseat was pushing something at me. “I have no cash,” he said.
“Oh, no,” I said. “No. We don’t want anything.”
“Please take this.”
“No need,” Tyler echoed.
“Please,” the man said. “Chinese energy bars.”
“We were too scared to eat them,” said the woman, stepping from the Subaru toward her friends, who were still thanking us for the rescue.
“No worries,” I said, as doors and windows closed.
Pulling slowly away, I said to Tyler, “Did you see her shoes?”
“Dammit, I forgot to look.”
Tyler unwrapped the package, which had a well-balanced photo of peas and multiple beans and corn set behind red and green calligraphic letters. Inside were eighteen individually wrapped packages. He pulled one open. It looked like a Pepperidge Farm Pirouette—you remember those sweet curled cookies your mother used to buy on special occasions? All those beans and grains and peas smashed together and rolled into a crusty crunchy pastry-like cookie thing, 0.4 grams of protein and 2474 kj of energy apiece.
We ate two each as we drove back toward the last light of the day.
On the package: This product is manufactured from cereals of 12 kinds of natural by the latest science and technology an antiseptic neither and nor spice are added. Natural is the best, lease do for food with a concentrated mind.
Our minds refocused, we searched for wild species in the fading light.