Oh my goodness it has been AGES since I have written anything on our blog! All I can say is I have been super busy exploring and getting into all sorts of fun in Alaska (and I am super sorry for not blogging more). The weeks have been full of new experiences, finding a new normal and getting to know my Alaskan family. It’s going to take so many posts to cover all the amazing things that I have been so blessed to experience so I figure we should start with one thing!
First off, I am still 100% in love with this beautiful place. Not a day has gone by that my jaw doesn’t drop from some sort of beauty in nature.
I can go to the exact same place countless times a day and the view will never be the same, impressive every time.
The way the weather here makes for such a dynamic beauty full of life is truly remarkable. Clouds and fogs slowly creep through the forest covered mountains. The mountains still have snow
on many of them, both on their tops and down in lower elevations, spots where it seems the sun forgot to melt it. I love when the water is as smooth as glass, so I can get shots of the reflection of the enchanted forests we love to enjoy. These are a few of my favorites. I took them at Blue Lake, the water reservoir for Sitka’s energy and the Estuary.
All of this being said – no one worry – I want to straighten this out once and for all – while we love it here, OF COURSE we are coming back to STJ! We miss it terribly and love being so blessed to have work in both places. We will be back on island (STJ that is – we are on an island here too) at the end of October!
So, the experience I thought I would tell you about today is what it was like to see a bear for the first and second time in the wild. By now I have seen around 10 or so. But they are never coming up on me as we hike so please no unnecessary worries here – they always keep mainly to the river, gorging on salmon. There is a park here called Totem Park, full of these amazing intricately carved Totem Poles from the native community here. Some are replicas and some are originals
but they are all absolutely remarkable. The great thing about this park is one of the main rivers runs right through it and there is a great bridge that goes over it. So, its a great vantage spot to look for bears since you can see so far up and down the river.
We have found the key to spotting them is going in the morning (EARLY – today we went at 545) or in the evening close to dark. They typically retreat a little in the day as Sitka comes alive with hikers and just life in general. I’ve listened a lot to my family on their guidance about the bears, they know I love my wildlife photography but also want me to be safe as do I. So when we go look or when we go on our hikes, Colin and I always go together and take the same shortest route to the bridge. We also carry a glock with special slugs designed to kill bears. Not that we ever plan to have to use it but we would be ready if we needed to be. Now on this particular evening, we got to the bridge and I was so disappointed to see no bears. We waited a moment and I was so deflated at the river full of salmon, alive dead and dying and no bear. Then Colin said “Just one more glance…” We looked up river and there was a juvenile chowing down on his favorite cuisine!
While I was super excited to have finally seen one in the wild to be incredibly honest, the first time I saw a bear it didn’t scare me at all. I felt safe on the bridge and felt at a safe distance plus he was happily eating. But mannnnn I wanted to get closer – of course, right? That’s so me… Everyone: “Leah that’s dangerous don’t touch it or get near it” Me:”Ok cool, just gonna get a lot closer now – I need a photo.”
The next morning we decided to go again. This time when we got to the bridge, lo and behold once again there were no bears and Colin had a bummed wife on his hands again. He offered “lets walk down the trail to where the mouth of the river is. Seems like they like that spot sometimes”. But it sounded unlikely to me, just a way to make me feel a little better with a possibility of a better bear sighting. The Totem Park has a network of trails forming two large loops, with connecting trails throughout joined at their center by the beautiful bridge over Indian River. On one side of the river, the trail can get you very close to the water, grass and reeds, the flat land at the mouth of the river. I peeked from behind the brush and the scene was seagull carnage. I wish I could capture how incredibly loud they are as they feast on the dead and dying salmon. As I panned my eyes around I fixated on it immediately- a bear.
He was lackadaisically walking around, eating a salmon here and there and at first once again I felt fairly safe as I had the night before. Then I heard Colin’s voice behind me, “He is REALLY CLOSE. Do NOT let him see you and if he starts coming this way – I mean one step – we are out of here. He could gallop here before you realized he was even after you.” Well, if that doesn’t make you incredibly scared, I don’t know what will. Especially with talks of bear maulings in a town just a little ways away. But, I had to get my shots. I hid in the brush and kept my camera back and zoomed as close as I could. Suddenly, he changed direction. Colin said
“Leah we need to go NOW. He looks like he is crossing the water heading to US” But of course I had to push it. I replied “No, he isn’t. He is about to turn again.” And luckily for us, my confident guess was
right. Then I was able to get some really amazing shots.
Generally while I may enjoy photography – I am hard on myself about my shots and rarely think highly of my work. But these bear shots I am super happy with and glad we walked down the edge to capture these moments. Since then we have seen bears a few more times, in the same spot and a couple of cubs with their mother, a sow. Someone you do NOT want to mess with. I still really want to get one more shot – an iconic one. So bear adventures will inevitably continue. Hopefully I get the awesome shot sooner rather than later! For now, here are several more pics to enjoy!