Aki, my little guardian walks three or four meters behind me. She looks concerned each time I turn around. She has reason to be. We are crossing a snow-covered meadow, something only made possible by a firm foot wide track. Each time I step off it my leg sinks into soft snow to mid-calf. I must look like a drunk trying to walk home after closing time. Aki acts like a faithful wingman, acting like she is ready to stop me from falling each time I lurch.
To keep the slippage to a minimum, I rivet my eyes on the trail. While this denies me views of the surrounding mountains, it lets me search for animal tracks crossing the trail. Right off I spot fresh tracks of a small Sitka black tail deer. The deer must have been drawn to the firm trail for the same reasons I am using it. But it broke off the trail and into soft snow. Wondering if we had scared it off the trail, I look through the scattering of shore pines in case it is hiding beside one of them. When I return my gaze to the trail I notice a line of canine prints covering the deer’s tracks.
The canine’s prints are too small for a wolf and too deliberate for a wolf. That leaves Coyote. I realize that I’ve never seen one in Alaska. They were common enough on the California high desert where, as a boy, I’d lie next to my dad and listen to them sing. The mid-sized predator (10-15 kilos) moved into the rain forest over a hundred years ago. But I’ve seen wolves in the woods but never a coyote. Could the coyote that tracked the deer be watching my little dog right now?