May 21, 2010
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The night was a great black velvet blanket blocking the sun from view, and the very dim illumination of far away giant pines was lit by the guardian of the night: the larger-than-life moon. The encompassing dark only amplified the sounds of the forest and the nearby river. The nighttime beetles stirring around, the owl’s echoes bouncing off the cavernous ravine, the leaves rustling from the unnamed animals lurking around, this is the nighttime orchestral sounds of Alaskan wildlife.

Even underneath multiple layers of blankets, I still had trouble falling asleep and the noises of the night did not help at all. If only I had stayed at home! For quite a while, I have been rolling around inside the tent, bumping into my mom, my dad, my sister. Eventually, they pushed me into a corner. Hey! It wasn’t my fault that I forgot to bring the inflatable mattress! But I knew when to keep my mouth shut, and I couldn’t complain about the rocky floor.

After a couple of hours, I finally laid still and slowly let myself slip into a familiar state of being neither awake nor asleep, a pleasantly numbing experience. A familiar buzz stopped for just a moment, and I felt something meticulously, but softly tapping on my cheek. Next moment, my face hated my palm for slapping it so hard, and for missing the blood-mining mosquito.

Playing hiding-under-the-bunker-of-blankets-because-of-a-mosquito was not the most enjoyable pastime to be doing at night; I had no sleep whatsoever.

* * *

The next night, I planned to have the deepest sleep possible, but it never happened.

I tossed and turned, counted sheep, and pulled at my hair: anything to fall asleep. Perhaps I had too much to think about. After all, catching my first salmon was a great achievement. Or maybe, my body’s to sore from all the slips and falls in the countless hours of river fishing. I just lay there thinking about why I couldn’t go to sleep, and it took me a good portion of the night. It turned out that the napkins that I used when fishing were in my pants, and they smelled of fish blood and guts.

So being the irresponsible, adventure loving five year-old that I was, I crept out of the huge tent, keeping close attention to my dad because he’s the type of guy who can sense someone moving while he’s still sleeping somehow. I made sure the tent door was zipped up nice and tight, not realizing it was freezing when you are outside, right in the middle of wilderness, without anything but pajamas, and in the dead of the night. The nearby garbage dump was no less than fifty feet or so from the camp, so I made a quick dash towards the dump.

The dump had the most indescribable smell imaginable. The smell was simply worse than the sour, humid feeling that crowded public beach bathrooms get in mid-July.

When I was about ten feet or so from the garbage dump, I was in the middle of making a three-pointer swish shot into the garbage “hoop” when I abruptly froze-I was in the presence of a bear cub.

I thought my heart just stopped for an hour. I simply stood there while the cub was staring at me. Animals, especially wild ones will stare at you for forever. When it finally dismissed me and resumed looking for food somewhere else, I almost forgot to breath. Whether it was pure luck or whether garbage was a better quality of food than I was, I would never know. I waited for the sun to peek its rays into the sky so that I can make sure I am nowhere where a bear was.

I came back to my tent donned in a pajama suit and my birthday suit full of mosquito bites. Luckily, nobody noticed that I was gone. I still had the ball of bloodstained napkins clenched tightly in my hands, and my legs decided it was best to stay put. My body just collapsed from exhaustion and before falling asleep I realized that the mother bear wasn’t nearby when I met the bear.

Questions started popping up. What if the cub didn’t have a mother? What if it didn’t have anyone to take care of it? The more I thought about it, the more it saddened me. Surviving outside in the woods is hard enough. Not having a mother to take care of you is, in a way, the greatest challenge. Reminiscing the past, I found that I just could not imagine how life would be without Mom because she was always there for me.

Later in the car ride back home, I was still half asleep in the back, but I silently promised myself to give Mom a special hug when I get home, just because she was that important to me.

And I did.

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