Unencumbered

1

I’m back in Anchorage for writer’s school. While I am gone Aki is living large with friends at their waterside property. Last summer I saw many moose on my morning bike rides but this week I’ve only spotted homeless folks and grim faced commuters on the Chester Creek bike path. Until reaching Winchester Lagoon, I ride through light filtered by birch leaves. But the fireweed-covered islands in the lagoon almost glow thanks to the unencumbered early morning sun. The resident Canada geese have already formed lines of battle, each five birds long. When I stop riding, they move slowly past me, just a few yards from the bike path.

2

I’m awed but also a little sad to see this calm reaction of once wild birds to my presence. Swerving to avoid goose scat, I pedal toward the coastal trail where two days before I heard and saw a pair of sandhill cranes. They have always been an icon of wildness since I first watched they fly low over tundra near Bethel during their Spring migration. In the thirty something years since that day, I always savor the sound of their ratcheting cry.

3

I won’t see the sandhills on this ride but a flock of yellow legs mitigates the loss. They explode from the beach when the engineer of a Fairbanks-bound train releases a mournful warning whistle. I am near a woman with face hidden by a high-end DSLR camera. The shorebirds circle around us, instantly change directions and fly another circle in the opposite direction. Lowering her camera she gives me a stunned look. “Did you get a good shot of the birds?” I ask. “I don’t know,” is her reply. Unencumbered by camera, I cached a memory of the flight, how they instantly transformed from creatures of shadow into those of light when they snapped off their coordinated turns.

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