"Sshh Dad, I'm trying to spot a lynx!"
I was pedaling along behind my 7-year-old daughter on the Denali Park Road, passing through the Igloo Forest section of the park. Grace apparently had been listening closely the previous day when our bus driver had said it was a good area to look for lynx.
The two of us were by ourselves as my wife and son didn't quite have the patience to stay with us. They most likely were already back at camp, warming up the hot cocoa.
I was a bit surprised to have been shushed, as the only noise I had made to that point was to suggest she keep to the side of the road while a bus went past.
My daughter, meanwhile, had been chattering away at a tempo that made "Flight of the Bumblebee" seem slow.
"Dad look at that blue flower! Dad look at that white flower! Dad look at that butterfly! Dad look at that snowshoe hare! Dad look at that rock! Dad look! Look, look, look!"
"Yes, I see that --"
"Sshh, I'm trying to spot a lynx!"
Her head swiveled from side to side as she tried to spot an elusive lynx, and she was weaving on her bike as a result. I thought it was a good thing to suggest she stay out of the path of the passing shuttle bus, and I'm pretty sure my voice wasn't what alerted any lynx in the vicinity to our presence.
There was no telling her that, though -- and I was quickly shushed again for even suggesting it.
With all the looking, our return trip to the campground, even though it was mostly downhill and definitely much cheerier, took longer than the ride to the Igloo Forest earlier in the day. Something about the uphill nature of the morning trek was rubbing Grace the wrong way, and my suggestions that she shift into a lower gear did not seem to sit well with her.
"Don't tell me what to do!" she said, then fixed me with a hard stare -- think Lance Armstrong's look back at Jan Ulrich on L'Alpe d'Huez in the 2001 Tour de France -- and took off mashing her pedals with all the histrionic fury a 7-year-old can muster.
I had to call her name three or four times for her to pick her head up and look herself -- which she did just in time to swerve around the hare hopping across the road.
The hare seemed to remind her of where she was, and she switched almost instantly from being mad at Dad to wildlife watcher. We found a spot to stash our bikes and hiked a little ways up Igloo Mountain -- I'm pretty sure the bears knew we were coming, too -- where we found a nice outcrop to sit, eat our lunch and enjoy the view. We watched dall sheep on the slope above -- they must have been out of earshot, I'm guessing.
On our bus ride, we saw caribou, sheep, bears, coyotes and a wolf (the windows were closed on the bus, and the driver did ask everyone to be quiet when we stopped to watch; it seemed many other passengers glanced toward the back of the bus where we were sitting when she did so). On another hike, we stopped for at least five minutes to watch a caterpillar; Grace's barrage of questions -- What does it eat? Where is it going? Should we help it? Why is it so hairy? When does it turn into a butterfly? -- didn't appear to disturb it, though it did seem to be moving away from us as fast as a caterpillar can go.
We have yet to spot a lynx, in Denali or elsewhere, but we did come back from our trip with an even better find. Now, whenever the kids are getting a little too loud, I just look at them and say, "Sshh, I'm trying to spot a lynx!"
Clarion managing editor Will Morrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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