My Life With Bears…

I was not born an adventurer. I married into it. This because the Captain -- besides being a captain -- was a naturalist. Every chance he got on land, he wanted to walk in the woods, along the beach, or on some mountain. Not that I minded, as I am rather enthralled with nature, myself. However, as our forays into wilderness places went deeper and deeper, we began to encounter wildlife that was larger than simply birds in the air, or crabs on a beach. And eventually, we ended up in that place of all places… Alaska. Where most of the remaining bears on this continent reside (whether that's true, or not, I am convinced of it). 

First of all, let me say that there are a lot of real characters who live in Alaska. And every one of them has a bear story. Usually more than one. The most popular of which is, "If you ever go hunting, or fishing out in the bush, make sure it is with somebody you can outrun." This because it is a known fact that bears can outrun humans within a mere few seconds, and one's only hope for survival lies in a good  distraction. Which I did not find very funny. 

Imagine my dismay, then, when -- to the Captain's delight -- we were able to acquire a bit of land within two miles of one of the three known denning areas for Grizzly bears in the entire state. We could build ourselves a cabin there! My first look at it was appalling. Not that it wasn't breathtakingly beautiful. We could see Denali (the highest peak on the continent) from there. What appalled me was the fact that it was overgrown with foliage that was over my head in most places. And if it was one thing I knew from listening to all those stories: bears do not like to be startled when they are resting in places like that. Or when they are eating berries. There were multiple varieties of berries from one end to the other of our new property. A veritable paradise for bears. 

I am ashamed to say that the cabin was well under way before I even ventured off the running board of the truck while we were there. Not only that, I had taken to singing, or reciting poetry, at the top of my lungs (truly out of character for me, as I am usually quite the shy person). Which really irritated the Captain, since he wanted to observe these giant carnivores in their own native habitat, and I was forever scaring them away. But I couldn't help it. When our neighbors -- a Native family, nearly half a mile away through the woods -- confided to us that the most important thing when encountering bears was never to run away from them (stare them down!)… Well, I even took to running off like a crazy person, at the slightest stirring of underbrush. Which is what started the "grabbing each other syndrome." 

The Captain would grab me by the scruff of my jacket and force me to stand still, whenever we heard a noise. Which almost always turned out to be nothing even remotely close. In turn, I would grab the back of his coat when he tried to dart off to catch a glimpse of something he had heard. If anyone had seen us, they would have thought we were fighting. Well, we were. And the only thing that saved my sanity was the eventual familiarity we began to share with the bears, themselves. 

They didn't want to encounter us anymore than we wanted to encounter them.

They actually changed their route down to the salmon stream for us. Instead of cutting through our property like they had for many years, they started going around. In time, they learned our habits as much as we learned theirs. And somewhere along the line, we have mutually agreed not to invade each other's territory. In the more than twenty years since we have been visiting our cabin there, we have never had a confrontation with each other… though we often see one another through the trees. Which is more than I can say for the black bears in the area.

But then, that's another story.


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