It's a quarter after five in the morning. The others have gone to look for bears.
So why am I still in bed? I'll tell you why.
It all started last night when we returned to Silver Salmon Creek Lodge for our delayed dessert.....
I'm sitting at the dining room table by the big front windows. Ron comes up the stairs with several bottles of Alaska Brewing company beer and a bottle of CAVU Cellars sauvignon blanc, the bottle of wine from my family's winery in Walla Walla, Washington.
|That's our table by the front windows. That's probably our dessert cooling on the near table.|
I am totally gobsmacked, and it isn't from the wine. I can NOT believe how close we were to those brown bears. How could this be? You don't mess around with brown bears; you don't get close to them. They eat people!
I've forgotten what the dessert was. Perhaps a berry cobbler. Maybe chocolate cake. I've forgotten because of what Ron said next.
The ATVs, he says, are not allowed to operate until 6 A.M., pursuant to regulations for Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.
Therefore he suggests anyone who wants to go out earlier in order to be on the beach at first light should meet here at 5:30. Then they will walk across the large meadow between the lodge and the beach and be ready at first light.
You have got to be kidding, I think, recalling that the back of the bear we saw earlier was barely visible above the grass. You want me to walk across a large meadow in the dark where we might stumble into a large brown bear at each step?
"If you don't want to walk," says Ron, perhaps seeing the look on my face, "Rick will be ready at 6 with the ATV and you can ride." That will be me. Sign me up for the ride! I knew I wouldn't be able to keep up with them and I didn't want to be the straggling target for a bear. I've lived in Alaska for 68 of my 74 years, I'm still alive and still un-scarred by close encounters of the ursine kind, and I've had one or two that were far too close. I know about bears.
I've had four friends who were mauled by brown bears, two critically, and survived. I fully intend to survive this trip.
You won't catch me out there in the dark.
The other five jump at the chance to stumble into a bear at each step.
Kate and I each open a window in our bedroom. I snuggled into the flannel sheets on my bed, but sleep was elusive that night. Images of bears with big teeth and bigger claws whirled around in my head.
Finally I hear Kate get up and leave the room. I listen as she and Lynda get ready to meet the other crazy ones by the lodge. They give me the heads up I'd requested as they leave. There is just enough light to stumble around in the cabin.
I make my way to the bathroom and flick on the light switch. Nothing. I check another switch. Nope, the power is out. Thank goodness Kate and I had the foresight to get all our gear ready last night.
"I don't know what I brushed my teeth with this morning," I tell the others later over breakfast, "but it tasted pretty good."
I go up to the lodge and make myself a cup of tea from hot water in a vacuum bottle. I hear an engine start, the lights come on, and soon Rick comes in the dining room. The clouds the day before prevented the solar panels from fully charging the batteries, he explains, and they gave out. Usually, they make it all night.
Then we're on our way to the beach where we find the others milling about and bear-less. "We quit going out in the morning," says Rick, "because the bears never showed."
He looks through his binoculars and spots a lone bear way up the beach so we load up in the trailers and move that way. The sky is starting to lighten as we near the bear that is walking way out on the tidal flats, and the sunrise is dramatic.
The hope is to see a bear digging for razor clams as well as get some shots of bears in the light from the sunrise. We all want to emulate a magnificent shot that Ron had made of a bear in the orange-gold light of a sunrise. The sunrise shots aren't going to happen. Neither will the clam-digging ones because the bear finds nothing of interest except something unidentifiable that it chews on for a while.
It walks toward the beach at a distance from us, turns and walks within fifteen feet of us all lined up with tripods and lenses at the ready. It doesn't even look at us!
|Don't you feel like reaching out and giving the bear a little scratch behind the ear?|
|Hey, I'm getting used to this bear stuff! (Ron took this photo with my point and shoot Coolpix. That's why it has my watermark on it.|
Then, off it goes farther up the beach where the ATVs can't maneuver.
We return to the lodge for breakfast.