Watch your head! The pilot repeated to each of us. My turn came to drop down to the float, balance-step across the wet deck and jump for the shore. Head down. Focus on the slippery metal, I narrowly avoid the tail of the plane and make it to land. The dark wooden cabin sits an easy twenty steps from the lake’s edge. Its perspective the same for the last sixty some years. The vantage of the outhouse changes more often than the new coats of stain preserving the structures. This far north, the noon sun never crests directly overhead; its fall glow reflects from the calm waters and dances in the orange and yellows of the decaying Devil’s Club and alder leaves. A slight breeze discourages the hardy, biting bugs and heightens the sweet smell of fall. The piles of gear stack at the shore.
Minutes later silence replaces our excitement as the Beaver’s engine fades. A slow breath, in then out, marks an absolute feeling of self-reliance and respect for the refuge of the public use cabin. Alone at this solitary cabin, it takes each of us trekking our gear from the lake’s edge to the cabin door to shake the feeling of town. Simple. Calm. Our heartbeats adjust to the lapping of the lake water, the twill of the squirrel patrols and the mesmerizing calls and responses of the resident loons.
No human has been to the cabin in several months. Access to Laura Lake is by float plane only. Our task now is to replace the worn fireboard beneath the woodstove. Stuck tightly to the cabin’s wooden floor, the stubborn nails give in to our insistence. Its job finished; the absence of the crumpled protective sheet leaves a stain around the newly placed, smaller board. We sweep the floor and ready the firebox for later. The ice-filled cooler takes up residence on the porch. Soft goods, solar lights, books and cameras stack onto the generous wooden bunks that line three sides of the cabin’s interior. Their brass hardware unlocked, the multipaned windows open outward to the sound of spruce splitting. We circulate a congratulatory beer, dig hiking boots from our dry bags and take a moment.
Leather holsters, sidearms and bear spray decorate each of our torsos; two of us have loud whistles at our ready. The Kork raft and the two Alpacas will wait for another day’s adventure. The four of us prepare to walk the woods between Laura Lake to Paul’s Lake on Afognak Island. We are between seasonal salmon runs; hyperaware of the locals. Trailing close together, we climb the hill, pass the outhouse and filter our way through the giant leaves of the Devils’ Club, around the vast mounds of spruce cones and under the dense canopy of the conifers. At times, the route to the fish ladder and river between the two lakes is no more than deep, mossy indentations. T-markers link the route but never in an overly obtrusive way. We all call, “Hey bear!”