Mother and Child Part 2
One of my goals for the summer was to start running again. I had been running off and on for about 5 years before that, beginning in my freshman year in college and I soon discovered that I loved it. I loved it because even having been a regular smoker for 4 years at that point, I could still run about a 3 mile stretch with my heart feeling like it was going to explode. And in Chicago it was especially easy because the Loyola University Chicago Lakeshore Campus was literally on Lake Michigan. I could cover the majority of my run and do so on the beach. Calm waters, rigorous waves, monsoons. I ask you, would you be able to turn that down? I didn’t think so.
The friends I had taken the sojourn to AK with were Katy and Bob. Katy had been my friend literally my whole life. We have baby pictures together. Our moms knew each when they were kids. Katy’s brother Tim is a year older than my brother. Her sister Kory, a year younger. Me and Katy and our baby sisters, Liz and Suzy, same age. So when she told me about her plans to move up to Alaska for the summer, it took about 17 seconds of deliberation before I decided to jump on board. Apparently Seward had become quite the bustling little tourist spot. Three of the big-time cruise lines had made Seward a stop on their Alaska tours along with other coastal towns. Meanwhile, Seward had a hot spot of a beach front camping areas where retirees and their massive RV’s could park and bask in their golden years. And Seward had responded in kind with an impressive tourism industry sprouting up. By the time we got there, there was an impressive little community of a respectable upscale restaurant and a bar, little touristy shops and the harbor where the cruise ships parked along with many, many small boats and yachts There was a fish cannery on the north side of town where the employees camped and a little gas station/liquor store down the street. There was a big-box general store of sorts that sold everything from lawn furniture and camping gear to clothes and some non-perishable food. All this was on one end of town. About ¾ mile down the road was the other half of town which sported a freshly built marine life nature center, a couple more restaurants and bars, a a hotel and a quaint little downtown area with some old-school shops. I worked at one called Brown and Hawkins. B & H was kind of an outdoor outfitter with rubber boots, Carhart attire, and other gear. The owner, bless her heart, had also gotten on the tourism bandwagon and stocked the store with copious amounts of Alaska t-shirts, do-dads, bobbles, and nick-knacks. The store was also a Patagonia outdoor gear retailer, so there was an entire section devoted to Patagonia gear, underwear, etc. Including a lot of Patagonia tops and jackets the owner had embroidered with “Seward, Alaska” or simply “Alaska” on the left breast. I’m all about exploiting the status of Seward as a tourist trap in the name of capitalism, but Patagonia gear is just one thing you shouldn’t mess with, but not matter.
Anyway, Katy and Bob and I had found a campground on the north end of town that would suit us great. It was outside a military base with hook-ups for RVs and a public restroom, a dumpster, and a big sign in the middle that detailed The Rules. One of these was the stipulation that a party could set up camp at a campsite for two weeks maximum, then they had to vacate. I think it was Bob that construed that as one could occupy one specific campsite for two weeks. The sign said nothing about vacating a campsite and choosing another one in the same campground and living there for 2 weeks. Wash, rinse, repeat. For the whole summer. Sounded good to me.
When at the REI in Anchorage, I had purchased a little 1+ person tent that housed me and my sleeping bag and a few other items. I had a mesh shelf that I strung overhead that held my glasses, contact case, battery-powered alarm clock and a book. I had a small storage bag where I kept some pre-packaged food items that I strung from a nearby tree just in case the errant bear wandered into the campground to check and see if the dumpster held any new goodies. Self-contained unit. I was pretty proud of myself.
Bob had purchased a 5+ person Taj Majal for he and Katy and Bob’s dog Dudley to ”rough it.” Bob’s little compound consisted of tarps underneath, tarps over the tent and various bungie’s to tie everything down snuggly. With the help of a little foyer in the front also covered with bungie’s, Bob had created a very impressive domicile for him and his family. I lived in the equivalent of a housing project.
I had started running very even-paced. Slow at first but within a few weeks, I had escalated to a steady gait that began at the campground about a half mile north of town, into the town itself, down to the southend where the town met the ocean, then doubled back along the beach front around Seward and back to my campground. It was a glorious way to cap off a work day. I would come “home”, change into my running gear, and embark on the most glorious 3 miles you can imagine. Summer in Alaska, indeed. And it was on this return trek back to the campground one day, after I had slowed to a cool-down walk when I crossed the little 2-lane highway back into the campground and saw them.
There was a little dirt path that veered off the highway into the campground. In that path was a moose and her calf. It has been 15 years, but if memory serves, she had to be at least 6 1/2 feet hoof to head and at least that long. And her calf was just a little guy, nosing around in the brush. My halt could not have been very stealthy because she looked me dead in the eyes, then at the calf, then at me again. The silent dialogue went something like this:
“Holy buckets. You’re a freakin’ moose.”
“That’s my baby. He’s eating. Don’t start anything, please.”
“Wow. You’re a moose.”
“You said that.”
“If you don’t mind, I’m just gonna stand here. Folks back home are not gonna believe this.”
“ I feel the same way.”
Then the calf looked up, a little startled. My ankles being locked as they were, I stayed where I was. He went back to foraging. I kept my eyes on Mom, who then turned to watch her baby. The whole moment couldn’t have taken more than 15 seconds, but for me, it was a moment I will treasure until the day I die. Then, a truck pulled up right between me and Mom and stopped. Some yahoo told the driver to stop and struggled to get a camera or a rifle or some other intrusion into my quiet moment with God. This allowed Mom enough time to nose her calf and the two of them trotted across the road into the forest.
I have been to zoos and hiked in the outback of Colorado, Washington, Oregon and South Dakota many, many times since. But that was the first time I had been face to face, literally, with Mother Earth and her majesty. That’s why I went to Alaska.