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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bear Cubs

Did you know Kodiak bear cubs weigh only 1 pound at birth? They are born when their mamma is denned up in a hillside buried in snow, protected from the ruthless elements of winter weather.  

Within a few minutes of us arriving at the Frazer Lake weir,  a protective mamma bear sauntered confidently down a steep embankment  with her 3 little ones frolicking behind. It was going to be a good bear viewing morning! Into the river the little brown fur balls went, to try their paws at catching some fish. One small guy had a harder time with the art of catching salmon and seemed to only eat scavenged salmon or what was fed to him. The others seemed more adept, enjoying several salmon on the banks. 

My niece, Cami, is in Kodiak for 5 weeks to help with Nora and Stuey and experience Alaska. Most recently raised in Montana and starting school in Bozeman this fall, this is Cami's first trip to Kodiak (as an adult) and going bear viewing was on "our" summertime 2014 bucket list for her trip.

"Wow-this is amazing. Its like a zoo, except way, way better." Cami said enthusiastically at the prospect of no gates, no fences. Just nature. Better than any wild animal park.   A  bear came from behind us and discreetly moved into his position on the river banks in front of us.  Through the  binoculars and zoom camera lens, we could see the details of mosquitos swarming around their teddy bear like faces.  The bears are accustomed to the humans perched on the hill, watching their every move. That said, there are no platforms or walls which separate us from them. 

Seeing Kodiak bears in the wild is always humbling and reminds me where we are in the food chain. Even though Kodiak bears have virtually no interest in humans (the ones that haven't been around human garbage, at least), they are so strong and big and have the strength of several men combined. 

On the way home I grabbed the front seat on the float plane and a chance to glean Kodiak backcountry wisdom from Willy, our seasoned pilot. Willy often drops Patrick off for hunts, surveys, etc and he knows Patrick's regular stomping grounds. 

"So the start of the Ayakulik River is down there?" I asked as Willy pointed out what is known as the Kodiak refugium in the distance. I've heard so many stories about  the Ayakulik (many involving bears), as Patrick has rafted it on various archaeology surveys. Without a moments thought, Willy steered the plane over and showed me the origins of the river as it made its way through the flat lands and then through valleys towards the ocean. 

The rest of the float trip was full of surprises including spotting now vacant bear dens in the cliffs, seeing Koniag glacier (Kodiaks only glacier) and we finished the day with a fly over Patrick's archeaological dig. Most everyone stopped their digging and waved as we circled over. 

Even for this Kodiak born and bred gal, the trip was a feast for the eyes (and the soul) and gave me renewed appreciation for how spectacular our island terrific in the north pacific is. 

And as I told Willy in a little thank you note I wrote him today...."Thank you for making the journey just as amazing as our destination."


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