Monday, August 29, 2011

The Cow

I'm incommunicado in the deep woods of Alaska. I've scheduled this little vignette from my trip as you await further word as to my status and the quality of the fishing.

Morning over the Chugach
One of my most memorable moments of my prior life in Alaska was walking across a large open field during a cold winter’s night, probably during the winter of 1984. I had fallen into an eclectic group that like most population samples in the 49th state included precious few who were actually from Alaska. Jim Black, my closest friend while there, was native and native born but the rest, like me, were vagabonds from elsewhere.

Martha and her “old man” owned a pawn shop down the road from where I worked. I can’t remember her old man’s name, let’s call him Cliff, but these two were self-styled hippies from California. Cliff talked a lot about the music festivals of the 60s and 70s and Martha boasted of Haight roots. Cliff was clearly old enough to have been there and done that but Martha seemed to be younger though she wore the years uneasily on her large frame. 

There was always a gathering at Martha’s. The front rooms of this ancient house were filled with showcases of their stagnant pawn business and the back room and second floor of the ancient house were where they lived and entertained. The doors were always open and a winterized back porch was where everyone generally gathered. There always seemed to by a half dozen or so folks wandering about enjoying the subdued carnival atmosphere.

On this particular night I left Martha’s late. I was in between cars at this point so I walked most places. My usual route back to the house led me across a large field where I hopped a chain link fence that bordered the New Seward Highway. I crossed its empty lanes, then over another fence and then a short walk through the woods to home.

This particular winter the snow wasn’t too bad and the air not too cold. Living in Alaska, one redefines one’s expectations of winter weather but in general Anchorage has relatively mild winters and this particular winter my trek across the field wasn’t hampered by more than a foot or so of snow.

I don’t know what got me to looking up as I crossed the field but when I did I noticed the most spectacular show of Northern Lights. I was so enthralled that I eventually craned my neck so far back that I fell over backwards. Fortunately the snow and a bit of Wild Turkey cushioned the fall.  I spent enough time laying there admiring the show that cool snow melt seeped into my jeans and got me up and moving again.

The Fence
There was a low spot in the chain link fence that was my normal crossing point. The fence was bordered by a low hedge of birch and willow and as I approached the fence something ran along the fence line in between the shrubs and the fence. I couldn’t make out the form but the size was large enough to rattle the chain links vigorously. About ten yards to my left a small moose emerged from the willow and stared at me. I was relieved. At least it wasn’t a wolf or a bear.

Like most woodland creatures the spawn of these awkward, ugly beasts are quite cute. So, your first thought is “Awe, ain’t that cute”. Your second thought, like mine, is usually interrupted by the appearance of a rather perturbed cow. In this case, she appeared out of the willows to my right. I looked left, looked right, and made a bee line for the fence. No doubt my performance that evening would have qualified me for the high jump at the Olympics. I don’t know if the mother made a move for me or not; I didn’t look back. I kept moving till I got to the far lanes of the highway.

I drove by where the pawn shop used to be on Friday. At some point during the past quarter century our dear friends at Walmart came along and plopped one of their megastores on the site of Martha’s place. The field is now full of a Sports Authority and a Sam’s Club. It wasn’t surprising. We’re constantly creating and recreating our environment just as we are ourselves. Those were good times. I wouldn’t go back for anything.


Pretty Yellow Flowers


  1. "We’re constantly creating and recreating our environment just as we are ourselves. Those were good times. I wouldn’t go back for anything." -- Great writing...there's so much truth to those words. Enjoy your time in Alaska...can't wait for the stories upon your return...!

  2. Really nicely written. I'm looking forward to more from the road.

  3. Thanks, guys. Just got back into Anchorage from Iguugig. Looking forward to posting tales of the bush.