"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The 2nd Fur and Feathers Journals, Ch. 5: In which the light turns magical

Chapter Five
In which the light turns magical

For six days during the first week of July, my life is predicated on the tides of the Pacific Ocean.  The waters of the great oceans are ever constant, sloshing back and forth like water in a bowl, predictable so far in advance that booklets are printed showing the exact minutes of high and low tides for each day of the year.

Flowing in and out of Cook Inlet, low tide reveals a strip of sand along the shore where small planes land to deliver and pick up guests of the two lodges at Silver Salmon Creek.   Vast clam beaches are exposed where dimples in the sand reveal the presence of a bit of protein for the Coastal brown bears.  

And low tides mean the two river crossings are fordable so that ATVs pulling cart-like trailers filled with spectators and photographers can transport those people to the beaches to watch the bears dig clams of fish the mouth of the creek during silver salmon runs.

The south creek crossing.

Up the tricky bank on the far side.

High tides, though, cut off that access and occasionally confine us to camp as the water pushes into the creeks and sloughs, flooding the river crossings and sometimes reaching the lawn of Silver Salmon Creek Lodge.   During those extreme tides, David Corey, owner of Silver Salmon Creek Lodge, can motor his aluminum boat almost to the front yard of his lodge.


This first week of July brings a series of extreme highs near 23 feet and extreme lows near minus five feet. 

Rick pulls a tide book from his back pocket, consults it briefly, and tells us what time we’ll be going out.  He’s been a bear guide here at Silver Salmon Creek Lodge for eight years and knows the habits of the bears.

This evening, we take the interior trail looking for bears.    When the tide is low enough, we cross the creek, noticing a persistent semi-palmated plover next to where the ATVs turn to access a trail through the beach vegetation.   Soon, we see its chicks and stop to photograph the tiny things.   Their fuzz makes them look like a gray and white egg with legs.

The plover is hiding her chicks.

Fuzzy chick with legs.

The light is magical as we drive south along the beach.   The overcast and fog turn the deep spruce forest blue and presents a striking contrast to the bright green vegetation and the light brown of the beach sand. 

It’s the kind of light photographers love.

We see a sow with cubs far down the beach.    

She has come through the vegetation and is trying to decide which direction to go.   A group of people are on her immediate far side, standing quietly.   Most of them are looking away from the sow at something far down the beach.

Rick stops the ATV far back from the bear so as not to block her or stress her.  We stay in the carts, cameras at the ready.

Eventually, she makes up her mind and heads in our direction.   Rick asks us to remain in the carts, and he kneels on the sand next to the ATV so we can photograph over his head.   The only sounds are the clicks of camera shutters, my occasional “oh, ow” as I try to find a comfortable position, and Marg whispering, “Hold still” as she shoots more of her magnificent pictures.

The sow and the cubs approach.   I am certain she doesn’t do it on purpose, but the path she chooses couldn’t be more scenic for us.

And then, when she is almost upon us, she veers sharply towards the beach and walks just a few feet away from Rick, who is still on his knees so as not to block our view.  He is photographing the cubs.   

I pull out my Coolpix point-and-shoot and take a few shots of this sight—Rick on his knees, looking away from the sow as she passes within touching distance.   

Rick is the blur on the left;   the handlebar of the ATV is the blur on the right.

I am inwardly chuckling with glee because this is going to be a great joke on Rick—him pointing his camera in the opposite direction as a bear walks right beside him.

The cubs have yet to reach us and it occurs to me that we are now between the sow and her cubs.     Should this happen anywhere else but at Silver Salmon Creek, say your prayers and kiss your you-know-what goodbye, because this would be a dangerous situation.  But here, the bears are okay with us in close proximity to them and their cubs, as long as we follow our guide’s instructions and mind our bear manners.

The cubs catch up and the family heads for a  late evening snack at the clam beaches exposed by the low tide.

We head for our warm and cozy cabin.


  1. I especially love the zoomed in photo of Momma and her cubs walking side by side. But then, all are a joy to study.

  2. An entertaining read with great photos (minus the guide:)