See why they call it One-Way Lake?
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, Active said.
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.
Excerpted from Village of the Ghost Bears by Stan Jones. Copyright © 2009 by Stan Jones. Excerpted by permission of Soho Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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