Skiing With Caribou

Caribou on a frozen lake

I left Alaska long ago, yet it doesn’t take much to trigger memories of old friends and the adventures that were uniquely Alaskan. While going through a pile of musty notebooks recently, I came across some notes that brought to life one of those adventurous Alaskans.

Dean was a schoolteacher and pastor, a barrel-chested gnome of a man who loved the wilderness and could enthrall an audience with his storytelling.

One frigid night, Dean was skiing alone across Alaska’s beautiful frozen Lake Louise, three and a half hours from his home in Anchorage, headed to his son-in-law’s cabin on the opposite shore. A brilliant aurora played overhead, reflecting off the snow-covered ice. All was silent except for the whisper of his skis. His parka hood fell across his face as he pushed on, head down, enjoying the rhythm of skiing.

Suddenly, he became aware of odd clicking noises around him. He threw back his hood to find himself surrounded by a close-packed herd of caribou, moving past him in the same direction. They divided as they saw him and flowed past about twenty feet to either side. The clicking sounds came from their ankle tendons rolling past small bones in their feet. They carried their huge antlers high to avoid entangling them with those of their neighbors.

As Dean moved one way, then the other, the animals moved too, unafraid but keeping the same distance away from him. Dean skied along in the midst of the caribou until he saw the light from the cabin ahead. As he moved toward, the mass of beasts parted to let him through, then closed again.

From the shore, he looked back at the herd of caribou clicking on down the lake beneath the banners of color swirling in the sky. He hated to leave that wild and beautiful scene, but the warmth of the cabin beckoned. He turned toward the light in the window.

 Whenever I think of caribou, I remember Dean’s story as if I had been there myself.

photo credit: Harde de caribous en hiver / Herd of caribous in winter via photopin (license)