When he was 19 years old, Steve Harman flew from Chicago to Ketchikan, Alaska, to see the so-called “Yellow Girl,” the bighorn sheep named “Yellow Girl” for her bright yellow coat.
Because it was during the summer solstice, Steve was wearing shorts and a t-shirt as he visited the land he grew up on. The sheep were able to breathe in the cool, wet air. After all, Steve thought, what’s the big deal about a bighorn sheep?
“It’s the first time I’d seen a wild bighorn,” Steve said.
But then the trip moved to another bighorn like Yellow Girl’s – one of hundreds that inhabit the Tongass National Forest, an area in southwest Alaska.
On a typical Wednesday, Steve and his girlfriend, Shannon Miller, sat on a log platform in the Arctic Stream Wilderness Area in front of a series of caribou dung stands. The woods were alive with bobbing water birds, including house finches, itssing and gnawing at dung. A gray heron, with its bright blue head and a long black tail, flew toward the boat.
After a few minutes of conversation, Steve got up. For those who have never kayaked, even very short trips, kayaking across the Tongass Forest can seem like a big journey – but Steve’s trip started at an angle.
Two of Steve’s three kayaks zipped backward through a set of gates on the Canada River in the middle of the Tongass before heading straight up the strait into the river.
The boat maneuvered up river for almost a half hour before heading back to the pond at the entrance to the forest. There, he and Shannon passed an ice pack on the floor, which Steve joked, made him feel like an ice captain who had come ashore with gold coins.
“The end is coming when you hit the rocks and go down a big river,” Steve said. “And then it’s so cold. You just have to stay calm.”
Shannon and Steve said that in the wild, even though they were armed with hermosas, they didn’t think about guns.
“This is crazy but there’s fish in your face. It’s literally like fishing,” Shannon said.
Steve was worried about Shannon. She was in the bow and they had barely navigated up the river. “She just got wrapped up in the sand,” Steve said. “She just sort of lay there.”
Steve finally brought the boat to shore, where they caught a fish and enjoyed a marshmallow-and-cupcake picnic for lunch. They set the other two boats, full of the catch, on the tundra as they floated to the cabin, where Steve sat up and opened a bottle of wine.
This article appeared in the October 18, 2010 edition of The New York Times.