Denali Park, Alaska

Caribou on the return trip

August 11, 1992

I had read that we would probably see ptarmigans along the road, and I was anxious to see one since I had read about them all my life. I kept watch in the willows alongside the road and finally spotted this one out in the low vegetation.

That brief glimpse would probably have been all I got except that hen's three chicks suddenly ran out into the roadway and she was constrained to come out and cluck for them to get back under cover.

The ptarmigan hen fluffed out her feathers and clucked to her youngsters as if to gather them under her wings. All that in the face of this monstrous yellow bus filled with strange peering eyes. I found myself quite touched by this display of selfless courage. In all the books about Alaska I read as a boy I remember stories about how extremely dumb the ptarmigans were. That you could just walk along whistling with stick in your hand and knock one off a branch because they were too dumb to realize their danger. An now I saw this beautiful bird put herself at risk to care for her young - it was to me an intimation of the Creator putting into the simplest of animals the instinct to care for its family.

Rather than run under her wings, the chicks scooted under the cover of the willow. Mom stood gaurd until the big yellow bus got under way and the danger was past.


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