When we lived in Union City, our backyard neighbor was a mama opossum.

The first time Gosia saw her with hanging babies, she couldn’t believe such a species existed. At our summer cabin in the woods in rural Poland, I equally thrilled to the sight of a mated pair of Hoopoe with zebra-like feathers, orange breasts and black-and-orange head crest.

Here in Fairbanks, Alaska, our neighbor is a moose sequestered in nearby woods. Sometimes you can see hoofprints in the street. It was rather warm in Alaska’s Interior at minus 4 degrees.

“Hank, quick, you must see this,” she called. 

I had been up since midnight writing a book chapter. I was thinking Gosia spotted a green aurora in the sky, but no. I put down my coffee cup and went outside in my bathrobe. She hustled past me to grab a camera.

That neighborhood moose calmly munched on sticks and last summer’s herb plants in our fenced garden. A streetlamp illuminated the animal. My best guess is that it was a yearling of about 350 to 400 pounds.

Whoa, all at once, without trying, I spooked the moose. It gathered itself and rushed toward me intending to leap over the low part of the fence. 

Luckily, Gosia kept the door opened a crack, so I scooted inside, knocking down a fruit juicer to avoid getting accidentally run over. 

Gosia raced through the doorway hoping to get a snapshot.  All she saw were tracks in the foot-deep snow. 

Moose photo by Anna Hornowska
This wasn’t the end of our January adventures. We took a family vacation in Arizona. 

Gosia, our daughter Natalia and I headed for the Grand Canyon’s south rim. Natalia was happy to build a snowman in Flagstaff, for she works as a Ph.D. researcher in tropical Malaysia. 

I had last been at the Grand Canyon to write about the El Tovar lodge for Outside magazine. Now, everything about the lodge was smaller than I remembered. The lobby was tinier, and the peeled log posts, while impressive, were not so stout. It was like going back to your childhood house and seeing it  through adult eyes. 

Nonetheless, the view from the south rim was as glorious as I remembered. Gosia and Natalia couldn’t take enough photos. We went next to Mather Point and stared google-eyed at the enormity of this sedimentary marvel of nature. 

Outside the El Tovar, we thrilled to seeing elk everywhere as we walked and drove. We also had dozens of quail beg for a handout at an outdoors eatery. A large red-tailed hawk swooped down in a canyon and came away with a small varmint.

All was marvelous except we witnessed a vicious case of road rage. At 75 miles per hour, a nut-job in a compact car terrorized a slow driver in the fast lane, practically touching his bumper — maybe 30 inches away. An accident would have been catastrophic and might have ensnared us. Minutes later, we passed a burned-out car hulk with a dozen first responders standing by it in shock. I hope when that insane driver drove by the wreck, he experienced a “come to Jesus” awakening. 

Otherwise, it was a memorable vacation. We hiked to the famous ancient springs cliff-dweller remains at Montezuma Well.  We visited a botanical garden with every type of cactus and marveled at the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesan West estate in Scottsdale.

Finally, at a thrift store in the middle of nowhere I bought an unworn black Stetson cowboy hat with Navaho-style band.  Your correspondent is now back in Fairbanks with Gosia and imagines himself looking quite jaunty. 

I hope our hooved neighbor decides to visit us again.