When the road turned from pavement to dirt an owl launched from a tree near the road and flew in front of me. It was that dusky time that’s just starting to happen around eleven at night in northern Alaska, and my eyes were tired from the past day of driving. I leaned forward and caught a gimpse of the owls head as she dipped and turned in front of me, then straightened out to lead me up the road.
I slowed down, staring up at her underside as she glided above me. Eventually, I remembered to breath, following the owl up the road.
I know that sometimes an owl is just a cigar, but that’s not the way it is with me and owls. This has happened before, once. I had been gone from Alaska for a long time, and just after I crossed the border an owl swooped low in front of me and led me into my home state. My father used to say that when I was a baby, out on trapline, there was an owl. He only saw it if he had me with him, but if I was in the sled, the owl would fly in front of us for a quarter mile or so, stopping when he stopped to check the traps. Then there was the owl that came to visit me when I was doing a quest in a desert cave…
So it goes way back with me and owls.
Eventually – it feels like hours but it’s probably just a few minutes – the owl swoops out over the valley, away from the road. I sit up and pay attention. This is a good road to follow, and really only goes one place.
I drive all night and sleep all day. That’s the way it is when you’re a hobo stripper. 😉
The road is still dirt, and getting bumpier all the time. One other van, immaculately white and fancy looking, is the only sign of civilization, besides the road, I’ve seen all day. First I passed them, then later they passed me while I was picking berries on the side of the road.
Suddenly I see an orange sign in the distance. I squint as I get closer. “Pilot Car Ahead.” “Be Prepared to Stop,” the signs say. They’ve gotta be kidding. Road construction? Out here? But they’re serious, and soon I come to a stop behind that shiney white van. There’s a pick up in front of the van, and a girl holding a sign in front of it. She walks back. “It’ll be about forty five minutes or an hour.”
I nod and turn the van off. This is as good a time as any to cook up some lunch, I guess. I think of going back and getting a sausage to put in my pan, maybe some broccoli. But then I remember that the van isn’t on, and I don’t want to run the battery down. I grab my berries instead, and climb out of the van to stretch my legs. I walk up and offer some berries to the people in the shiny van. They shake their heads without even rolling the windows down. Definitely tourists. The man in the truck takes a handful right away, and we talk about how plentiful and early the berries are this year. Of course that leads to where he lives, where I live, etc. On a whim, thinking of the owl, I ask “hey are there any empty squatter cabins around here?”
He pauses, scratches his head. “Well, a few of them burned down the last fire, and there’s someone in the one. That other one’s empty though.” He told me the approximate mile marker and how to find the trail to it. It was like in movies when suddenly everything happens perfectly.