Same scene, different story

Dear returning reader,

In Wednesday’s letter, I wrote about our recent caribou hunting trip. I described the small details — the sights and sounds of the river.

When my husband Sam got home that evening, he read the letter. “It’s nice,” he said. “I like it.” But then he chuckled, and said he told his coworkers a different version of events. Same hunting trip, same characters, setting and plot, but Sam’s telling was a comedy of errors.

It began the day before we left. As Sam drove to town to get supplies, he heard an ominous sound from his truck. The brakes were going out. He called me at the bookstore, said he wasn’t sure how this was going to work out, but he would try to replace the brakes that afternoon. There was no way we could make the 150-mile drive, pulling the boat, if he didn’t fix the problem.

Which, much to my admiration, he did in about an hour, with the only help coming from our two daughters. First hurdle cleared.

At home, we hurriedly gathered all of our gear and food, working late into the night. We rose the next morning at 5 a.m., bundled up the girls and hooked up the boat trailer.

There, in the pitch dark of our driveway, we realized that the trailer lights weren’t working. No brake lights. No taillights. Sam followed the wires and came to a connection where, when he tugged ever so gently, the entire line fell apart. After much searching, he found his tools in the shed and began rewiring. It was cold and dark. I held the flashlight for Sam while the girls waited, half-asleep, in the house. After a half hour or so, he had all the wires mended. We turned on the truck, tested the lights — now we had no trailer lights, AND no truck lights.

“We blew a fuse,” Sam said. Fuses, and any other store-bought items, are 30 miles the opposite direction of caribou. But by now it was nearly light (not part of the plan.) Sam said we would head north, and if someone came up behind us, we would turn on our turn signal (which we miraculously still had) and pull safely off the road. Next hurdle cleared, kind of.

Until we arrived at the boat launch, more than 150 miles from home and in the middle of nowhere, and our 12-year-old daughter hopped out of the truck in her flimsy Converse shoes.

Note Sam's hip waders drying by the fire, my manly sized rubber boots, and my daughter's Converses.

“Where are your boots?” I asked.

“What?” she said with an expression only a middle school girl can give you. “You didn’t bring them for me?” It was  37 degrees. There could be rain, snow, sleet, and at the very least freezing river water. So I gave her my new insulated rubber boots, which are about three sizes too big for her, and I took Sam’s rubber boots, which are about 6 sizes two big for me, and Sam wore his leaky hip waders. The only one of us in appropriate foot gear was our 4-year-old, who as sweet as she is isn’t much help in launching or landing the boat. But another hurdle was cleared, albeit with cold, clumsy feet.

We got in the boat and turned up river. When we stopped to scout for caribou, we saw dozens of big, beautiful grayling swimming in the clear water below us.

“I want to catch a fish!” our youngest announced excitedly. She has her very own pink fishing rod, which she is very handy at casting and reeling. She loves fishing. It was part of the goal of this trip — we could caribou hunt, and Rori could catch some fish. Except, in the flurry of the morning, we forgot all the fishing gear. Even Rori’s hot pink fishing rod. Rori scowled and stared over the boat’s edge, watching 50 fish swim by.

For the next hours, all was how I described in my last letter — burbling river water, eagle feathers and bear tracks, all beautiful and amazing. Evening approached, and we started a campfire. We hadn’t seen a single caribou, despite all the tracks, but we knew they could come along any time. We got out our dinner — hot dogs, buns. “Where’s the ketchup?” Grace asked.

Sam looked at me. I looked back. “Mustard?” he asked, kind of sadly. Apparently fishing rods and hunting boots weren’t all that were forgotten — we had also left the condiments at home.

But at dusk, not long after we finished our meal, Sam whispered loudly “Caribou!” and we proceeded to shoot one, field dress it, and bring it back to camp just before we lost all light. We left the meat on the sand bar, just the other side of the river from camp, and during the night the monstrously huge bear that had left his tracks along the river did not come visit us or the meat. We stayed warm enough in the tent, and Sam dried his wool socks and hip waders beside the campfire. In the middle of the night, we heard coyotes yipping and the northern lights were out in all their majesty.

In the end, all things forgotten were, well, forgotten.




  • Melissa Behnke says:

    I read this before I was out of bed this morning, Eowyn. What a wonderful way to start the day! I’m still grinning. I love your blog!

  • Love it! I was laughing when I read it. Been there, done that. Thanks so much for sharing THIS version.

  • Mr. Baer says:

    I’ve always admired Sam for his ability to patch things together at a moments notice using whatever is at hand. Grace may be longing for the creature comforts of a warm cabin, but she is a real trooper, as I have fond memories of a trip she made with Sam and I to the exact same place on the Gulkana River where she slept between two snorers and possibly other things (we had beans and rice for an evening meal) and didn’t complain a bit, except to punch her father in the ribs and tell him he was snoring. She was too polite to mention any noises from my side of the tent. As we were floating down the river, Sam using the oars, trying to sneak up on caribou, she did say, “Daddy, why do you have a motor on the boat if you’re not going to use it?!” Forgetting her boots is so typical of that age mind set. It brings to mind the times of being halfway to Chickaloon, having picked up the teenager from school who says, “Oh, by the way, I need to bring cookies to the concert we are having tomorrow at school” and you reply, “I didn’t even know you had a concert!” Not to mention what is running through your mind that you can’t say. But they do grow out of this ……..when they leave home ten years later. And then you will find yourself missing such moments. Not really!!! The great thing about taking such excursions with your children is they do remember and are ready to do it again years later when my goodness, they will pack the truck and even boil the water for the Mountain House.

  • Sue Mathis says:

    I think forgetting things is a part of every excursion. I am reminded of a time where my husband was the keynote speaker at a weekend church outing at a camp outside of Fairbanks. I was so careful to pack everything he would need to be presentable to the audience. Suit, tie, shoes, socks, etc. As he was getting ready, he looked through everything I had packed for him and said, ” Hey Sue, where’s my shirt?” No one there was any where near his size to borrow a shirt from! He ended up wearing a shirt at least 2 sizes too small, couldn’t get the collar or the top two buttons buttoned, so he stood in front of his audience looking like “Disco Preacher!” We still laugh about this and the shirt is the first thing I pack now!

  • Christy Thomas says:

    I love it. Thanks for making me feel better about my family outings. I was beginning to think we were seriously lacking.

  • Betty Rachel says:

    I am glad that even my friends – the ones I would want with me should I ever be lost in the woods — also forget camping essentials (ie: boots and ketchup)!