Not much like the Kobuk River in fall. Old glaciers have melted away, leaving electric red tundra, fine grained sand, and stands of bright gold aspen. Moose standing in the flats melt into the willows when we motor past. Fall migration is in full swing, and it’s impossible to keep track of the number of swans we startle, beating the river with their wings to get into the air. We talk about eating one, but the boys don’t like to shoot them when they’re still traveling in pairs.
“The most romantic meal ever,” Quinn says.
“You shoot one, and the other one just comes back over again and again, honking real sad at you,” Reid says.
“Then you have to shoot that one, too,” Quinn says.
We stop on the side of the river to cut down a few dead spruce, load them in the bow for firewood. Right when it starts to get dark, we gun the propeller into a high gravel bar that none of us can see. Guess that’s camp. We build a fire as it starts to drizzle and heat up yesterday’s moose chili on the coals by headlamp.
When it starts to rain in earnest, we finally crawl into our tent - big enough to hold the four of us plus all our gear plus all our guns. By morning, it is still raining. Quinn climbs into his waders and behind the boat, and after two hours of tinkering and a succession of spare propellers before the drive shaft engages and we get going again.
We’re damp but not cold, behind schedule but without deadlines. We head upriver.
I know I’m adjusting to river living not when we spot sandhill cranes overhead, or listen to owls calling from the outside the firelight, but when my my mouth starts to water at the sight of swans taking off. Only 250 miles to go.