Wildlife biologist Paula MacKay and her husband, on their way into the backcountry to research the elusive wolverine, are stopped short on day one:

“Nine knee-jarring miles from the North Cascades Highway, I try to picture a scenario that doesn’t end in disaster. ‘ONE at a TIME on BRIDGE,’ reads the foreboding sign. Although the letters are neatly carved, their subtext is much messier. You don’t want to lose everyone in your party.

“I size up the span to the other side. The crossing is about as wide as a Seattle street, but we’re a very long way from the tameness of the city. The bridge has no guardrails—only shoulder-height cables to guide wobbly hikers. Twelve feet below, a relentless rush of rapids thunders through bone-breaking boulders. Most alarming of all, the narrow slats are too far apart for our husky mix, Alder, whose paws are sure to slip through the spaces between.

“Maybe Robert can strap Alder to his chest like he’s carrying a baby, leaving hands free to grip the cables while they traverse the raging creek. But what if Alder spooks in the middle and tosses them both over the edge? I’ll be standing here helpless while a tumble of arms, legs, and tail brings my family trio to an end…”

From “Lessons in Survival,” forthcoming this June in Deep Wild: Writing from the Backcountry. To learn more about Deep Wild and to reserve your copy, visit deepwildjournal.com.

Paula MacKay is a freelance writer, conservationist, and field biologist who has studied wild carnivores for two decades. She lives in the forest near Seattle. This is her second appearance in Deep Wild. Visit paulamackay.com.

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