Cowboy Decker rolled the Super Cub into a slow arc as
Alaska State Trooper Nathan Active peered over Grace
Palmers shoulder. One-Way Lake was a blue teardrop
cupped in the foothills of the Brooks Range, with caribou
trails lacing the ridges on either side. The outlet, One-
Way Creek, lined with stunted black spruce and a few
cottonwoods gone gold, threaded south across the rusting
fall tundra toward the Isignaq River. At the lakes head,
wavelets licked a fan-shaped talus under a steep slope of
gray-brown shale. More caribou trails cut across its face.
Grace was wearing the intercom headset, so Active was
obliged to shout at the back of the pilots head. Looks
pretty tight, he said.
Yep, Cowboy shouted back. One way in, one way
out. You land toward the cliff and take off going away.
Active lifted one of the headset cups away from Graces
ear. What do you think?
She shifted on his lap in the cramped back seat of the
Super Cub and turned her head toward him. Im game.
Anything to get out of this damn airplane.
Lets do it, Active shouted.
Cowboy leveled the wings and flew a half-mile down One-Way Creek in the slanting fall sunlight, then swung
back for the approach to the lake. He came in low, floats
barely clearing the treetops along the creek, chopped the
power, and dropped the Super Cub onto the water,
throwing up spray that painted a brief rainbow in the air.
Cowboy slowed to taxiing speed and pointed the nose
at a spot on the bank that boasted a tiny gravel beach and
a stand of spruce on high, dry ground suitable for
camping. The floats crunched into the shallows and
Cowboy shut off the engine, ushering in a sudden and
deafening silence broken only by the slap of their own
wake reaching the shore.
Cowboy popped open the Super Cubs clamshell doors,
letting in the smell of the Arcticthe wet, fertile rot of
tundra vegetation, a hint of resin from the spruce, and
something elsesomething sharp and cool that Active
associated with autumn in the mountains near sunset.
Winter, perhaps, hovering just over the ridges to the north.
It was already a couple of weeks late and couldnt be far off.
Cowboy, wearing jeans and the usual bomber jacket and
baseball cap, pulled up his hip waders and jumped into the
shallows. He grabbed the nose of a float, tied on a yellow
polypropylene line, and dragged the plane forward a few
yards, then walked into the trees and snubbed the Super
Cub to a spruce. He returned to the beach and surveyed
the lake with an air of great satisfaction. You get into
One-Way this time of year, you got caribou walking by;
you got grayling in the creek, maybe some Arctic char,
maybe some pike in the lake; and you got the best
blueberries in the Arctic. He raised his eyebrows and
grinned. And you got total privacy. Theres only a couple
guys can get in here, and youre looking at half of em.
Not for the first time, Active marveled at the pilots
intuition, and at his utter lack of discretion in dealing
with the insights it brought him. Cowboy might sense
that fishing, berry picking, and caribou hunting were
the least of their reasons for coming here, but it was
none of his business. We probably oughta get unloaded,
He helped Grace climb onto a float, then extricated
himself from the torture chamber that is the rear seat of a
Super Cub and clambered ashore, stamping and stretching
to unkink his muscles.
Cowboy walked onto the float and began emptying the
cargo pod under the Super Cubs belly and the space
behind the back seat: food in cardboard boxes, two cased
rifles, two fishing rigs, a bright orange Arctic Oven tent, a
Woods Yukon single-double sleeping bag, camp stove and
fuel, cooking gear, and all the other impedimenta required
to support human life in the Arctic.
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