We were up early. Kind of. We were up early enough to take a morning hike, with the intent of hunting up some grouse or spruce hens for dinner. Literally, rifle in tow. We saw lots of evidence of birds scratching in the tundra on our last hike, just no birds, but it had been an afternoon hike. This morning, certainly, we should see some birds.
We hiked up the road, which, to some more urbane, may not look like a road, but, to me, having lived on a dirt road far worse, it looks like an interstate. It was a beautiful morning, clear, cool, bright and lovely. If I could’ve ordered a morning off of a menu, this would be it.
We turned from the road onto a trail. This a trail used by snow machines in the winter and four-wheelers the rest of the year. In hiking and cycling terms, I would call it a “double track” trail. I try to be intuitive and I think I do a fair job. Most of the time. My man was walking very quietly, using low voice tones. Right. We are hunting for birds. I adopt my best Sacajawea style walk, silently moving up the trail, hopefully, without snapping twigs. We see plenty of signs of birds, torn up tundra being an indication that they have been near, recently, scratching for food. We become quieter. Near the top of the hill, we double back and look for “the trail”. The trail being a barely visible single-track trail through the thick tundra and brush. To anyone but he who travels the trail, it really does not appear as a trail. Left on my own, I may struggle here and there to see which way the trail turns or twists. Hunting birds, I stick to the trail, I am like a dog, flushing the birds, if there were any, away from the trail. My guy walks fifty feet or so off trail, through only slightly denser growth, watching the ground and the treetops, somehow, simultaneously, for birds, ready to pop one that I may flush from “the trail”, like a good hunting dog. I am told of the behavior of these elusive birds. They scratch around in the tundra early in the morning and take to the treetops later in the day, or when scared. If scared, before being able to take flight, they will simply freeze, totally and completely blending in with their surroundings. And, I am quite sure, we passed dozens and dozens of these sneaky bastards, and I am also quite certain they were sticking their little bird tongues out at us as we passed by, oh so quietly, mere inches away. And, once we were out of earshot, I’m pretty sure they did little spruce hen high fives and laughed at us, mocking us for our obtuseness.
I’m sure you’ve gathered from my demeanor that we did not find any birds to “invite” to dinner. We depart from the trail in search of another. I am lost. I mean, I know I could probably back track and find my way to the double track trail and back to the road, and, yes, I would know which direction to turn on the road to return to the house. I am, at least, that astute. But, blindly through the tundra, I may be a bit turned around for a bit and may end up wandering downhill into someone else’s yard, which, I’m certain, wouldn’t be cool, and, as everyone in Alaska is armed and, quite literally, loaded for bear, may be both uncool and disastrous.
We find, no, not the trail home, at least not right away, but I’m confident that we are, at least, headed in the proper direction. We also find along our unmarked path, berries. Blueberries and low bush cranberries. One does not leave home without at least one rifle, maybe two, one for moose, one for birds, and, Ziploc “foot squares”. For berries, of course. We pick and pick and pick and as we load up our foot squares, we find the path home.
As we walk down the hill towards the house, just visible through the trees downhill a ways, my guy spots a saw in the dirt, a small carpenters saw, and not his. It has likely been there, buried in the dirt and the duff, for many, many years. Many, as my man bought this plot of land in his youth, as a dream, and then dreamed enough that it manifested, with commitment and consistency and sheer will and lots of hard work, into a home. We retrieved the saw from the forest floor. As we approached the house we found an empty jelly jar on the edge of the rock planter where the flowers and the strawberries grow. A jelly jar to anyone else, a “coffee cup” to my guy. We retrieve it, as well. So, between the berries, the old saw and the jelly jar, at least we didn’t come home entirely empty handed.
Coming down the hill, we pass the chukar pen. Yes, chukars, as in domesticated game birds of the partridge variety. Bird is on the menu tonight, and we can’t eat the saw or the jelly jar. So, we decide to pick off a couple of chukars for dinner. The first harvest. And they may have been a week or two too young, but they were delicious.
So, today, I continued to think about being lost and what that really means; that we are never really lost, we always know where we are, it’s where we want to be that is temporarily displaced. And I also contemplated things found. A saw. A jelly jar. A bunch of berries. If we pay attention, there are things all around us, just waiting to be found, if only we pay attention. A few interesting thoughts to ponder further, and, a fantastic day. The best. Like a dream.