He maintains a healthy sense of humor and frankness about bears, which is reflected in the comics. One in particular resonated with me and my feelings after two weeks in Alaska’s backcountry wilderness. It depicts tourists stepping off a bus to photograph the wildlife with a header “Step off the bus and into the food chain.” Meanwhile, two brown bears await behind twos boulders as the tourist films an adorable snowshoe hair.
I have to admit, that is a little how Alaska feels. Everyone traveling to Alaska hopes for a bear sighting, and trust me, most are lucky enough to have many. However, after our first up close encounter with a brown bear, watching it lunge into the Russian River hunting the sock eye salmon run, I have to admit, I immediately changed my perspective on “stepping off the bus” and entering the food chain. After seeing one in action you can't help but realize your own futile strength and abilities.
This feeling was repeated as I looked through the spotting scope at an enormous blonde grizzly bear from across Upper Twin Lake. She was foraging the upper vegetation on the lake as her cub playfully dodged in and out of the thicker shrubs. Her enormous shoulders and back muscles easily navigated the rough terrain. As peaceful as she looked up there walking with her cub, I couldn’t help but imagine the sheer power and force she could exhibit if provoked.
Just the night before, we had spotted a large black bear doing the same thing across the lake, only to realize that was the hiking trail we were to walk the next day. As we climbed the steep trail, my echos of “Whoa, Bear” did little to calm my nerves about startling such massive beasts as we hiked. I wondered if my shampoo from 3 days before might still waft a scent in the air. Or if she could tell I had had cinnamon in my oatmeal that morning.
It’s the same feeling I have when swimming or kayaking in the ocean. Just knowing that beasties larger than myself lurk just beneath the surface is an unsettling experience. I think there is no greater moment that can bring you respect for the wild and Mother Nature than stepping outside of your hierarchy in the food chain. It is humbling, it is equalizing, and everyone should do it at least once in his or her lifetime.