Friday, October 14, 2011

Walking Anan Creek With Bears in August

The float plane landed on remote Anan Bay with some surprising words from the pilot: He'd be back for us in four hours. WHAT? We were supposed to go into the woods, the woods with grizzly bears and black bears, alone? I mean, what if we saw one? Forgetting that was exactly the reason we were on this northern shore of the Cleveland Peninsula, somewhere south of Wrangell and north of Ketchikan. In fact, bear watching was our primary purpose for being in Southeast Alaska at all last August, but still, what if we saw one? "Make noise, sing, look big, and I'll see you at 1," he answered.

With that, he swung the nose of the plane south and piloted his three-seater down the watery runway toward Ketchikan and other adventurers eager to be dropped into their own Alaskan stories. We had four hours to write ours, and all that separated us from our story was a bear trail, one well-liked and well-used bear trail.

The trail to the Lower Falls at Anan Creek is an ancient bear trail going back perhaps 500,000 years. The Tlingit Indians used the path to reach their summer camps into the late 1800s, and Ronald Reagan walked it in 1992 when he visited Anan. As Reagan hiked to the falls, he fell, prompting a boardwalk to be constructed over the bear trail for easier access. Thanks to Ronald Reagan and his fall, Alaska bears received their first ever presidential boardwalk! At first, the boardwalk appeared to impact bear behavior; they wouldn't use it or cross it to access their fishing grounds. However, bears are adaptable. What's a boardwalk when your 15-20 million year history includes adaptations that allow you to eat a variety of food, hibernate when that food disappears, have excellent night vision, a sense of smell so keen that carrion a mile away is yours, and an ability to run up to speeds of 35 mph? Yeah, they had this boardwalk thing covered, and the bears were soon back to using their trail every time the salmon ran. The path in the picture to the left is a bear trail coming out of the woods down to the boardwalk. These smaller trails were everywhere; used regularly by bears on their way to and from the salmon.

Walking with bears awakens some internal, but dormant thread; one that backstitches patterns of today with yesterday's weavings. Anan is old, ancient in fact. Maybe it's this long passage of time that gives it the palpable energy felt by present day visitors. Wondering if the rustling in the high grass behind you is the wind or something wilder than yourself demands a presence of mind that is sometimes dulled in today’s plugged in world. Yet, despite nerves being on full alert, walking with bears is also peaceful, restorative, and at times, comical. I think it's because bears are all of these things and more . They are playful yet fierce; courageous, but shy; stalwart, yet yielding. In four hours, the bears at Anan gave me a story. They also gave me this: be more than one thing in any given moment, be dimensional, and know balance when those dimensions appear to oppose.

I'm still learning, so sorry about the layout of the pictures, but here is some of my story: 



  1. I can't believe you guys had the courage to go into bear territory alone! Yes I think you got your story, and thank you for sharing it. I've walked with one bear before. You lose your fear when they don't attack you right off!

  2. Greta, when we saw the bear on Mt. Hood? I think we were on our way to Vista Ridge Trail. That was a fun day!