I slept well on my first night. Breakfast burritos are served at the table, though for early risers a continental breakfast is available from 6:30AM.
At 10, the naturalist gives us a run down on what to expect for the stops today. Jason is a young Midwestern guy who looks like the boy next door. He’s been on the boat for 2 seasons and has two science degrees. He is knowledgeable about Alaskan history and geography and is able to field the few questions we have about the Alaskan Coastal Brown Bears we’ll be seeing. We learn that these huge carnivores are close cousins of both Grizzlies and Kodiaks and that they can weigh over a thousand pounds.
Today, we’re going to a salmon run where the bears are prevalent. We motor through a wide channel under a partly sunny sky, which is fantastic for Alaska, passing north around a point with a remote lighthouse. I’m told, without explanation, that it’s inhabited by two angry women. The thought occurs to me that maybe they’re mad because they live alone in the middle of nowhere.
We anchor at a small cove around one, and we’re broken into two groups before heading into a narrow river mouth, since the pontoon boat we’ll be using can only carry 14. I’m in group two, and when the first group returns, I’m disappointed to hear they only saw one bear for a few seconds. When we arrive, however, there is already a big brown bear at the run. He’s positioned himself on a boulder at the base of a cascade that the salmon are trying to summit. Soon, a smaller bear shows up and immediately jumps into the water and comes up with a fish in his mouth. Then, within ten minutes, he’s caught another before he wanders off. When we motored off, the first bear was still at his post, waiting for that perfect salmon, I guess. All we could figure was he was a picky eater.
I’m thrilled we were able to see these gentle giants up close. I’m guessing we were about 200 feet away from the action in our boat. I was impressed by the slow, deliberate motion of these creatures, which is typical of predators at the top of the food chain. They don’t have to worry about being eaten, and they certainly seemed unafraid of us. More than once, they looked directly at our boat without any sign of agitation. Perhaps they were sizing up their next meal? :))
Later that afternoon, we all get a chance to see a unique geologic feature. We take the boat out to a natural arch extending over a salmon-filled stream, arriving just as the last threads of daylight are glancing off of the rippling surface of the water and reflecting back on the underside of the arch. As we drive under the rock, Jason explains to us that the arch is made possible because it’s made of porous limestone. I know this already, since I’m a geologist, but none of that matters to me. The fact is, it’s a beautiful spot and a beautiful moment which could only be appreciated at that exact time on a sunny day. Lucky again!
Dinner is chicken and salad served up, as usual, with a serviceable Chardonnay, but tonight I’ve decided to try the scotch. It’s a Costco brand, but it’s still a 16 year-old single malt, and I think I overindulge, because at midnight, I’m still laughing like a loon with my new best friend John from Sydney.
A good end to a good day.