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God bless America, the wild and free

I love America. I have never seen purple mountains, so I can’t speak of their majesty. But I have seen a fair portion of this vast country of ours and I must say it is impressive. As is its wildlife.

I’ve driven a van in Alaska as a rather large young moose ran alongside us. He came rushing from the woods — much like a whitetail deer would — here to cross the highway, then turned abruptly, wide-eyed, to avoid slamming head and huge antlers first into the passenger side of the vehicle. I’m very glad it could pivot so well.

It ran in the ditch for several yards as all of us in the maroon tin can marveled that its head was still even with ours. Then it turned again and pushed back into the woods, and I turned and looked in front of me again to see where I was driving.

I was 21 years old, and that moose was not the largest one I saw on that trip, but it certainly got the closest. I’d never experienced anything quite like it.

A decade or more later, our family drove through an animal preserve in several vehicles and came within just a few feet of a dozen or so large bison. We were warned to keep our windows up because some of the herd could be aggressive when it came to ramming their horned heads through windows to search for treats, but the pungent scent of hot, hairy buffalo filled the car anyway.

These beasts were impressive and a little intimidating, and I lost myself in images of vast numbers of them roaming across the plains.

Skip ahead another 10-plus years, and my two sons and I were heading east across I-20 in Louisiana. We had just passed a sign we’d seen dozens of times — it warned of bears crossing the road anywhere in the next 13 miles. I was riding shotgun as my older son drove.

I began to comment that in all the many times we’d traversed that stretch of road, not once had I ever seen a bear. And before I could finish saying it a black furry head popped up from the embankment to my right. It was attached to the rest of the medium-sized bear that just missed our rear bumper as he started to cross the interstate lanes.

“It’s a bear!” I shouted.

I spun in my seat to watch it act like a squirrel for a moment trying to decide if it wanted to go any further, before it retreated quickly whence it had come. I never knew black bears could run so fast.

Over the years, I’ve seen bald eagles and blue heron swoop from the sky, salmon leap in rivers, pronghorn antelope race across fields, raccoons wrestle, foxes play and wolves lope through the trees. I’ve heard the calls of mountain lions and bobcats, watched alligators swim as I fished nearby, played with hermit and horseshoe crabs and I’ve run from angry water moccasins.

This nation has a plethora of wild animals across its many states, and I am grateful to have experienced what little of it I have seen, heard and handled. The wandering deer, turkeys, bats, coyotes, possums, armadillos and even skunks remind me that freedom is a precious thing. And that’s something worth remembering and giving thanks for.

May God bless America.

Brett Campbell can be reached at brett.campbell@dailyleader.com or 601-265-5307.