As the rushing water carried the toy pistol away, out of sight, tears welled up in my eyes. I couldn’t help it; I loved that gun. It was my most effective weapon against the bad guys. At least I still had my knife. But it was crushing to think that I would never see my gun again.

I was 6 or 7 years old, I think. I don’t remember for sure. I do remember that it was a fine Alaskan summer day, sunny and warm. You don’t get too many of those kinds of days here, not along the coast anyway. It’s more likely to be breezy and wet.

I was hiking the McHugh Creek trail, just south of Anchorage on the Seward Highway. It was a fairly easy day hike — just my parents, my younger sister and I, out for a family day of fun in the sun. The trail crossed the creek a few times, as I recall.

I don’t remember much else from that first hike. My family was happy. There were lots of spruce trees around, and a picnic table where we ate our lunch, where I made my most intimidating pose for a picture, brandishing my little plastic pistol as if I was some great gunslinger.

And of course, I remember dropping it in that fast-moving creek, watching it float away in the ice-cold glacial water, to be carried out to the vast ocean below us.

It’s funny how important these things can be to a child, these items that provided the spark for our imaginations to run wild, fueling endless hours of joyful playtime.

Of course, I was upset for quite awhile. But I had to accept the fact that my gun was gone. I had to be brave and face the cruel facts.

Imagine my surprise and joy when, on the way back down, I spotted that gun, lodged in some rocks in the creek! It was totally unexpected — a miracle! What had been one of the saddest days of my life suddenly became one of the happiest.

I’ve never been back to the McHugh Creek trail, although I’ve driven past it many times. We moved to Fairbanks not too long after that. I often think about the trail when I’m in the Anchorage area, think that I would like to hike it again and see if it is anything like what I remember. Maybe one of these days I will. But I’ll always remember my first hike — the day the wilderness took away my favorite toy, then graciously gave it back to me.

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