Danny versus the Alaska Railroad (a selection from the collection Of Moose and Me)

My middle sister and I had left for college when my parents brought home Daniel the Spaniel, named by my youngest sister. The small, wiggling puppy did his best to seduce them all, and by the time I visited months later at Christmas he was a full member of the family, much more at home than I felt after my long absence. Abundantly blessed with sweetness, energy, and empathy, Daniel was, as an earlier story indicates, somewhat lacking in brains and sense. One of my father’s favorite games was to grab a flashlight and shine it on the ceiling and walls, darting it back and forth as Danny ran in pursuit, barking furiously. He never caught on to the imaginary nature of those birds of light. When my parents sold our house and stayed with friends Outside, Danny went too, curling up underneath my mother’s feet for the long trip down the Alcan (Alaska-Canadian Highway). When my parents returned to Anchorage, Danny joyously returned to Alaskan pursuits: racing after my father as he skied the Coastal Trail, tracking ptarmigan and seagulls, and chasing the Alaska Railroad.

The southern leg of the Alaska Railroad runs from Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, down the coast and through scenic Turnagain Arm to branch off, with one arm going to Seward, famous for the Mount Marathon trail race, and the other to the tiny port town of Whittier. As it moves back north towards Anchorage, it intersects the Coastal Trail: the long network of trails that skirt the coast and extend into many Anchorage neighborhoods. Near downtown Anchorage the Coastal Trail and Railroad run parallel, separated by a long metal fence. Many residents of the area thrill to the sights and sounds of the Railroad, but Danny felt a special fervor; when he heard it rumble into view, clad in the state colors of blue and yellow, its long body flecked with golden stars, he couldn’t help but chase it.

The railroad engineers quickly got used to seeing a barking spaniel, ears flapping madly, running in pursuit, and they’d egg him on, tooting their whistle at him as they got closer, and tooting again as he broke into a run, racing beside the fence and the thundering railroad. Even when Danny became blind due to illness and seemed to lose much of the pleasures of his old life, the sound of the Alaska Railroad would make him spring back into life, barking with excitement, ready to challenge it, canine versus train, canis versus comitatus, once more.

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