We are back in Alaska, falling silly in love with animals we meet.
First, there are red foxes, three kits as bright as new flames, tumbling across the road on Denali’s Polychrome Pass at daybreak. It turns out the things you can do with a roadside boulder are many. You can jump on it and play the king of the castle, while other two foxes try to pull you down. You can all hide your heads behind it, so only three butts and three enormously bushy tails stick out, and stand like this for a while. You can run around the boulder one way, and then the other way, very fast. You can stop near it and pant, and then you can jump back and forth. Forgetting the boulder, you can run up the trail and stand together with shoulders touching and turn your heads in the same direction, so the bunched up faces look like a big red artichoke with fox ears for petals.
Not even a quarter of a mile down the road from the fox artichoke, there are four wolves, both parents and their two big pups, sitting on top of a small hill. As we watch, they occasionally produce a gentle communal howl, nothing serious, just a little morning song with dark noses lifted high and furry throats vibrating. After the last song they sneak away so smoothly we hardly notice their departure.
There are also freshly fledged golden eagle chicks playing high in the wind, and northern harrier hawks flying and diving in search of Denali’s voles and mice and other tasty snacks, and a trumpeter swan taking off from a small tundra pond, his huge snowy wings doing the heavy lifting.
There are partridgeberries and blueberries and a long afternoon sleep in the tundra under the warm sun, with our arms entwined.
Last night we arrived at the campground in Denali after sleeping in the high country gravel pit, and learned there was a family of lynx hunting in the nearby woods.
John thought we should just go and see them. I insisted we needed at least one camera. He maintained that walking camera-free guaranteed a good sighting. After some to and fro and many associated and not always helpful remarks, I grabbed my camera from the truck and off we went. It was getting dark, the time when every river corridor in Alaska becomes a natural animal highway, so we kept our eyes peeled for grizzlies and anything else that moved.
It did not take long before John whispered: there is a lynx! but later told me that at first he thought it was a big snowshoe hare with enormous hunches: same color, same stillness in the woods. The big cat sat on his rump in a mossy patch, straight and tall like a Great Dane, ignoring us. Then he bounded silently on his huge soft paws into the thicket, flushing out several jays which scattered loudly: it looked more like a “here I go” kind of romp than a real hunt. I looked through the viewfinder but my camera was defunct: I forgot I already took my digital card out, and this is like pulling all books out of a library — there was nothing to read.
Miraculously, the lynx took a beeline back to the campground. We followed at the respectful distance, grabbed my card and another camera, and just as well since another lynx appeared. John and his lynx went to a meadow, while I tried to keep up with my cat who preferred the thickest of thickets, and after some scrambling among the trees we photographed our moving felines until they disappeared like fuzzy ghosts into the night. After we looked at the images later that evening we felt the joy again: two graceful, big-footed, black-ear-tipped cats, melting into the black spruce forest. I do not know how my freshly mended leg carried me over ravines, mossy brooks and lumpy forest floor in semi-darkness, but it did. And I am not sure if I ended up dreaming about lynx, but it was a dream of quiet alertness, full of bouncy and exuberant life.