Encounter at Kusawa

I had been working on a commissioned painting when I came to a challenge with the design, for the second time around. The artwork is a 36- by 48-inch landscape overlooking Kusawa Lake valley.

I decided I would have to visit the area of my subject again and complete more sketches and snap a few more reference photos. After gathering a few supplies, I reached for my boots and the slight sound had Oscar by my side like a magnet.

We climbed into the “Runner” and we were on our way.

The day was gorgeously clear and not too cool. I wished we had gotten out even earlier. It was around 2:30 p.m. and dusk would soon be approaching. The lookout is a trapline beside a gravel pit at Stony Creek.

If you are new in town, it’s about 50 kilometres northbound on the Alaska Highway. In the summer, it is a hotspot for raspberries and a few kilometres from the Kusawa Lake road, a haven for camping, outdoor adventures and cabin life.

The pullout is on the right-hand side with an obvious yellow gate at the gravel-pit opening. Keep sharp right and this time of year you’ll see a snowmobile roadway leading up to the trapline.

Fairly high up on a tree, just as you start to veer left, there is a small sign. A black square with a blue triangle and white words reads, “Trap line”.

I am unfamiliar as to how these places of trapping work, and one might ask one’s self, Is it wise to take your dog for a walk on such a trail?

But, since the lake incident, I keep an extra-close eye on Oscar. As long as we stay on the snowmobile tracks, I thought, perhaps we will be fine.

I parked the truck a little ways up the trail in which I had to drive in 4WD low. There wasn’t tonnes of deep snow, but there was enough for it to be a tricky drive.

I considered my snowshoes and then remembered we should stick to the hardpack. Sketching tools and camera in hand, we were lookout bound …

A very straight trail led ahead, far into the distance. We re-traced our summer walk to the right, the trail dipping into an old creek bed.

The hill ahead looked steep. I trucked along quickly as I was chasing the light quality of the sky. Oscar followed close behind me, letting me have the lead until I slowed down in the incline and he bounced ahead.

“Heel,” I reminded, and he duly noted. I am sure this trail goes on and on through a pass and over a valley into wild desolation. One day I want to explore for an overnight. Not today, though; we were on a mission.

I saw the spot to the left and it required us veering off the main trail. We carefully navigated, stepping in wildlife tracks. Grateful for the warmth and the light, I sat right in the snow and spared no time to begin my sketching.

Oscar was sniffing behind me and slowly trailing over the edge of the hillside. One, “heel” and Oscar kindly came back and sat behind me in a snowless tree well. “What a good boy, Oscar,” I lavished.

I drew a simplified outline of the composition before me. It was white wax pencil on a piece of lightweight wood, primed with gold gesso. I tried to focus solely on the outline of each shape that made mountains, valleys and trees.

Suddenly, I noticed a red head poke up over a fallen tree. A fox! So close … Wow. I was trapped in complete awe. This was the closest I had ever been – about 10 feet away.

His sharp almond eyes stared at us. Oscar was oblivious as his view was slightly obstructed. I immediately thought to protect Oscar. Even though this amazing creature was beautiful and friendly looking, it was wild and Oscar looks a bit like a large rabbit.

I strapped Oscar to my hip and remained seated, still and quiet, we both zoned in on the fox. The red fur seemed to shine against the white snow and the slight black legs that moved in, eight feet away, now … sniff, sniff.

As the fox moved, not a flake of snow seemed to be disturbed. Light as a feather, the fox zigzagged closer, sniffing tracks and staring up at us.

Crossing over the log, the beauty was now four feet away. Oscar, by now, was being held at his collar. This whole time, I photographed the scene unfolding before me and I decided to make a move.

I just wasn’t assured of the positive outcome of a dog and a fox sniffing each other out and becoming best of pals. I slowly stood up, taking Oscar with me on my hip.

The fox was interrupted as my size transformed rapidly. I started for the hardpack, about 30 feet away, and put Oscar down. He followed closely, sensing my lead. By that time, the fox had travelled along the side of the hill to the bottom and was staring up.

Gee whiz, I thought, what a dash.

But just then, Oscar started to dash.

“No!” I yelled sharply.

Oscar heeled immediately. I picked him up again and walked toward the fox. He hardly missed a gaze as I approached. Seemingly floating as he jumped along the trail, the fox lead the way back to our ride.

“Nice escort, hey Oscar?” (who, I might add, didn’t mind being “airlifted” out of there; his gaze was a trance, brown eyes fixed to the red target).

I was really curious and as we approached the truck, I just had to get more photos. Click, click; click, click, click. I held Oscar with one hand and photographed with the other; meanwhile, the fox re-approached us.

At one point, the fox was entirely in one tire track, confidently heading straight for Oscar and I. I had to stand up again. My goal at this point was to secure Oscar in the truck and take more photos of the fox. Or maybe just hang out, observing.

I was in a trance. This amazingly tame fox was just so perfect, each strand of fur stood out like jewels. The sun was going down now and the fox backed off a bit.

Clearly not interested in me, he moved down into a ditch and sat perfectly framed in the valley that held the sunset rays. I felt very fortunate. I am totally in love with the Yukon. What a stellar afternoon.

I loaded up the truck, and the fox got up on the road again and led us out. It was really strange, thinking back. I was in awe. As we approached the yellow gates, the fox was gone into the ditch, exploring some other scent.

When I looked back, one more time, I saw no signs. Swift and cunning; mysterious and elegant. Thanks for the visit, little fox … and home Oscar and I went.

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