This fascination for the natural world has been apart of me since birth. As a child, I would spend my free time in the forest learning about my surroundings, and how species interacted. I could spend hours observing an ant colony, watching birds, collecting snakes or trying to identify animal tracks. In grade school, stories like My Side of the Mountain and Call of the Wild really resonated with me. During summer vacations, I traveled with my parents, brother and two sisters across the country in a motor home visiting many of our national parks. We were always on the lookout for large animals and rewarded to see moose, elk, black bear, bison and mountain goats that looked like moving snow patches on the mountainside. Once while traveling through British Columbia, Canada, we stopped roadside to watch two Dall sheep while they made their way across a rock strewn hillside. It was this fondness for nature that carried me through college to earn a degree in biology.
After college, I shifted my studies to health, exercise and nutrition. I worked as a fitness professional at a local gym and as a technician in a hospital pharmacy where I met my future wife, Vicki. She and I shared many common interests, but one in particular took us to Alaska for a five-week backpacking trip from mid-August to mid-September. We hiked on the Resurrection Pass, in the Chugach National Forest, where we heard the call of wolves one evening, and were awakened one morning to the sound of a waterfall as a bull moose repeatedly lifted his head with large antlers from a nearby pond. He was browsing on the submerged vegetation. As we waited near the trailhead for our return bus to Anchorage, we sat on the bank of the Kenai River. Here we were entertained by salmon swimming by as their dorsal fin crested above the milky glacial waters. We were truly in God’s country with such beauty!
Once we returned to Anchorage, we spent sometime there touring the city. We stopped by their Visitor Information Center which is an actual log cabin with a sod-covered roof located among the city’s high-rise buildings. We also attended the Alaska State Fair (in Palmer, Alaska) where a turnip on display weighed in at 15 lbs. and a cabbage was awarded the blue ribbon for a weight of 77 lbs. The mid-night Sun and the fertile soil of the Matanuska Valley were responsible for such performances.
The second leg of our backpacking trip took us to Denali National Park with its six million acres (about the size of Vermont) and North America’s tallest peak at 20,320 feet. Here we saw caribou herds, moose and many brown (grizzly) bears. We even saw how bears communicate their presence with one another by stretching from the ground high up on a tree trunk and raking their claws down; gouging out the tree trunk. This was a little disconcerting to us since I stand at 6’ 1” and couldn’t reach that high; and finding this clue so close to our campsite. I believe, I slept with both eyes open that night.
During the winter months, park rangers use sled dogs to patrol the park for fear that a busted snow mobile could leave them stranded in such formidable territory. We made friends in Anchorage, and talked of going back the following year, but life took us in a different direction. Perhaps someday when things are less hectic and we can unplug, then we will return, as it is that beautiful and wild!
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