Growing Up Alaska: In a Flash

Central, Alaska, yes, that is the name of the community that I grew up in, is located in, well, central Alaska, though that is not how it gots its name. This is all irrelevant to the story so we will table that for another time.

What is important to know is that Central is very small and we did not always have a public school. If the enrollment at our school (K-12) dropped below 10, they shut down the school. That meant that there were times that we did our schooling through the State of Alaska Correspondence School located in Juneau.

It was during one of these years that I was taking a class on Alaskan animals. My class involved a lot of field work where I had to count populations of certain animals, study environmental impacts, both in the habitat and human impacts, and so on. Mind you that this was 8th grade.

The current project gave me a list of animals to find. If I checked them off, I got 1 point, took a picture of their footprints I got 2 points, and points varied for photos of different animals on the list. I’d already gotten enough points to get an A, but I wanted to make sure I had more than enough for an A+.

I set out on my snowmachine to get a picture of one of three animals left on my list. Each were worth between 8-10 points and I knew of an area where I might spot two of them, though past searches hadn’t bore any sightings.

I was looking for a lynx or a silver fox, and I knew that there were some up near Ketchum Rocks, a few miles from my house. I drove up as the sun made its slow plunge below the horizon as this is often the best time to spot these two animals as they come out to hunt.

I spent three hours searching and though I spotted a couple of lynx in the distance, I’d never been close enough to take a picture.

Taking the long way home, I hoped that I might spot on of the animals as they crossed some wide open spaces along well traveled game trails. I drove slowly as it was now completely dark and scanned the darkness of eye shine from my headlamp.

Suddenly, up ahead, just at the edge of my headlight, I spotted something lope across the trail and into a small stand of young spruce trees. I slowed and for a brief moment I caught the eye shine up in the trees.

I stopped at the tracks and spotted the tracks of a huge lynx. A quick flash of my light revealed that the lynx was about 12 feet up in the tree, so I hoped off my snowmachine and moved to one side in hopes of getting a good picture.

I swept my light across the trees once again to make sure the lynx hadn’t leapt down while I’d gotten into position. My ears were still thrumming from the sound of the snowmachine, so I knew it could probably crash through the trees and I wouldn’t hear it.

I brought my small camera up and just as I was taking the picture, I noticed that the world had gone strangely quiet. The thrumming of the snowmachine was gone, but I really didn’t think anything of it as it suddenly spooled up again.


The flash illuminated the trees and its occupant. Then it was black. And my heart stopped.

Stamped onto my retinas was the image of not a lynx, but a wolverine. And the snowmachine noise was it growling.

My heart jumped and my body did the same as I nearly walked on snow. I clambered onto my snowmachine and started it without looking back, sure the wolverine was about to pounce and shred me to death.

I drove a few hundred yards down the trail before I stopped and gulped air, trying to slow my heart rate.

A couple of days later I sent in my animal report along with the film from my camera having never spotted a lynx or a silver fox. And to make matters worse, a wolverine wasn’t even on the list, though I did tell my teacher of the encounter hoping for some extra points.

A month later I got back my work with an A+ and the photos. As it turns out, the photo was a blur of white and black, though the eyes of the animal were clear. My teacher loved my encounter story so much that he said he couldn’t help but give me A+ even though the wolverine wasn’t on our list.

And in case you are wondering, a lynx track looks very much like a wolverine track with two tell tale differences, with a wolverine, you can often spot the fifth toe and they are accompanied by claw marks. The lynx, like most cats retract them when walking.

Author: matthewlasley

I am a school teacher and an author. I like to write picture books, middle grade, science fiction and short stories. I live in Alaska and I love history, so those two things often influence my creative writing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: