In the North, we measure distance by the amount of time it takes to drive from one place to another. Whitehorse to Haines Junction should take an hour-and-a-half. Haines Junction to the U.S. Border, along the scenic Haines Highway, is just under two hours. Of course, depending on road conditions, construction, visibility, weather, stopping to take pictures and other such factors, extra time may be needed. I often extend my journey by taking pictures of the majestic scenery. Along the way, especially if you make the same trip often, you will gather way-posts. A way-post is an item that marks your progress along a road or trail. The rest stops on either side of Haines Junction have become way-posts for me. Once I see a rest stop, I know I am almost to the Junction.
Also in the North, drivers must be ever vigilant to spot wildlife that can unexpectedly cross the road in front of you. Yes, the moose you see on the edge of the bush might remain there until you pass. The sow grizzly with her three cubs, eating grass at the side of the road, might stay in place until you drive by. Just as likely, they might take a notion to cross the road without warning, tall four of them, one after another, in single file. The Arctic Ground squirrels that stand to get a better look at you might scamper out onto the highway, giving you little time to stop. I don’t even want to talk about how a flock of ptarmigan congregating on the road will go in 87 different directions at the very last instant. It is a miracle to not hit at least one. You need to always have your wits about you.
While driving in certain light, I tend to see animals where they don’t exist. At the cusp of dusk, the light, or lack thereof, can trick me. I often see bears in the distance, but on approach, the bear becomes what I call a “bear bush.” That is a bush when first glimpsed, looks very similar in size, shape and colour to a black bear. As I come closer, I realize it is not a bear at all, but a bush with poor lighting.
During my many travels along the Haines Highway, I have discovered a Moose Bush. It has become a way-post for me. Unlike the bear bushes I often see in questionable light, the Moose Bush is always in the same place, calmly looking to the west. He is constant, never moving. The Moose Bush is definitely a bull, with an impressive rack, which, unlike his flesh and blood cousins, he maintains through all four seasons.
Sometimes he is hard to see when I am looking for him, even though I know where to look. He stands an hour south of Haines Junction. The Moose Bush is a solitary icon of the wilderness, framed between trees, on the brow of a hill, mountains rising up behind him. If I had a totem, the moose would be on it. I thrill to see real moose in the wild and I am always glad to see my Moose Bush. As a way post, he is there, constant and comforting.
We all have way-posts in our lives; constants we can count on, that orient us and remind us not only that we are on the right path, but how far to go until the next stop. The splendour of the Kluane mountains, seeing wildlife in our travels, taking in a breath at -40, all keep us grounded and oriented in this unique landscape. The Moose Bush is my way-post, always there in the same place, reminding me that I am nearly home.