In honor of another season as a guide in one of the planet's most captivating and untrammeled wild corners, I want to share a handful of memories from last summer - some of the memories that explain why I feel so lucky to be able to work in places like this. This is from two days at the end of July, part of a week when the Discoverer hosted a tour group from Japan.
|Sunset, looking out over the bundled kayaks on the lowest deck|
July 24, Glacier Bay National Park. At Gloomy Knob we spent about a half an hour watching the mountain goats - reasonably low, a few kids galloping along the cliff edge while their elders stand stoically overlooking our boat. Three hard-to-see eagles; which this trip are haku-toe-washi. Todo is sea lion. Kuma is bear. Travis printed a bunch of Japanese/English field guides with two reams of paper he bartered from the Bartlett Cove front desk; slowly I'm figuring out what means what. Coming through Russel Cut, we find four bears! Two on the beach, slinking behind rocks and in and out of the alders; a mother and cub, tucked even further into the foliage on the slope above. Mostly, the bears were present as bending branches in the alders, glimpses of bear-brown among the tree-brown and leaf-brown and dirt-brown. Kuma, kuma, lobbed back and forth - the one word becoming a plea for directions, or a photographer's frustration, or a binocular-wielding guest's delight.
The bears were frustratingly hard to see; the boat was restless; Alaska was hiding just out of their viewfinder. We moved on.
|Bilingual Glacier Bay Wildlife|
As we were pulling out of the cut, we spot another bear on the island, golden brown, pacing along the mussels just above the waterline. The call goes out - kuma, kuma, kireina kuma; the boat laboriously turns around in the narrow cleft. He is a beautiful bear, all whitish and brown, standing out so clearly from the dark mussels that in the late-evening dim he almost seems to glow. He stalks the tideline, flipping over rocks, the muscles in his humped shoulders rippling. The entire boat is on deck; the entire boat is silent. It's like the first bears were practice bears. The warm-up act, and now Glacier Bay is done with the previews. Turn off your cell phone; forget the popcorn. Here comes the real thing. Don't look away.
|Brown Bear, Glacier Bay National Park|
One gentleman is walking around the deck with a huge camera around his neck, and both hands over his mouth, like he knew he was being too loud before. I think he's a bit of a riot. The park ranger is giving a talk now, with the aid of one of the Japanese translators; got a shower with hot water for the first time in four days.
The next morning fog settled into Cross Sound; you could barely see the shore from our usual anchorage. We debated delaying the skiffs; Lex and I ended up going out with our skiff group after only a slight delay. The fog looked like it was trying to lift, but as we went into the pass between the islands, it settled in thicker than before. We kept close to the north side, going slow. A lakko - a sea otter - popped up with a mussel in his paws; the sharp clack as he broke into it echoed off the side of the island. Near the far end of the channel, we ran into more sea otters, and sea lions - todo. The fog was starting to break up; but the cover of the mist seemed to tempt some of the big bulls to come even closer to the skiffs than usual, as though they were having as much trouble seeing us as we were seeing them. They come to the surface smoothly, bellowing an exhale, loud and sudden; the guests facing the wrong way would jump. Some of them definitely were checking the boat for fish guts; I had to warn the folks to be careful with their fingers. Maybe I need to add it bites to my list of need-to-know Japanese phrases.
|Steller sea lion - probably disappointed we aren't a fishing boat.|