Bears, Small Plane Crashes and the Weather 9/6/10
I moved to Anchorage in late May this year. It is probably not enough time to know a place. In truth, I have actually been here less than three months. I spent most of June in the Washington D.C. area.
Still, I do not find it difficult to offer some early opinions about this place. I like Alaska very much. People have been warm, welcoming, and pleasantly informal. I used to think New Hampshire was informal. Alaskans take informality to a whole new level.
For many, the idea of dressing up might mean a best pair of jeans and a clean sweatshirt. While I know there are some snooty opinions out there about how awful it is Alaskans (and Americans generally) dress down, I find it refreshing. Instead of being compelled to spend precious dollars on wardrobe, the emphasis here is casual and comfortable. To me, this way is less affected and more down-to-earth.
The informality is also fitting because Alaskans live closer to the natural world than many other Americans. You do not have to go too far to be in the wild. And what an immense wild it is! It is a big sky country.
Anchorage itself has been in a state of geographic expansion over the last 30-40 years. One result has been encroachment on bear habitat. The story of bear/human interaction is a perennial favorite in the paper. On the front page of the Anchorage Daily News, there is almost always some story about a bear. If you go to http://www.adn.com (website of the Anchorage Daily News), you will see the bear section, replete with multiple pictures taken by readers of bear sightings.
Back in New Hampshire, we had black bears. I would sometimes see them walking through my backyard in Wilmot heading toward the blueberry patch. Alaska has brown/grizzly bears, black bears and polar bears. The polar bears are way north but brown bears seem to be everywhere in the state. Black bears inhabit the southern two-thirds of the state.
Male grizzlies can run 400-1,100 pounds. Females run 200-600 pounds. It is estimated by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game that the state has 35,000-45,000 brown bears and more than 50,000 black bears.
For hikers, the bear presence is not a small concern. Avoiding the bear is always the preferable course of action. Bear spray is widely advertised. Many hikers and anglers carry guns. It is not a great idea to surprise a bear. Hikers are advised to make noise, talk loudly or tie a bell to your pack. There is a cottage industry of advice about what to do around bears. Always giving them space and a wide berth seems like the wisest course to me.
There was a story yesterday in he Anchorage Daily News about a brown bear death zone near the confluence of the Kenai and Russian rivers. Two years ago, nine bears were killed in defense of life and property in a five mile radius around two of Alaska’s most popular fisheries. The red salmon run has been a big attraction for the bears. This year the run was weaker. Because it was so weak, biologists closed the Russian river to anglers in mid-August. That in turn meant less bear/human contact.
In another story from this summer, the mayor of Denali Borough shot and killed a grizzly that charged him near the area landfill. It turned out that someone had previously shot the bear with a .22 caliber bullet. The mayor felt badly he shot the six foot 400 pound bear. Grizzlies were climbing over the landfill fence despite the city’s efforts to stop them. One online commenter noted that shooting a grizzly with a .22 was an uncivilized form of torment.
Along with bear stories, it is hard to miss the stories about small plane crashes. Planes are everywhere. When I have gone out hiking, I have been surprised by the number of planes in the air. A reality of Alaska life is the limited road system. Planes are often the only way to get around much of the state.
While the Senator Stevens’ crash was the big local news event, there seem to be no shortage of other small plane crashes. The weather typically figures in as a factor. I do realize I am talking about the weather and the winter has not arrived yet. Still, it is always a big topic.
The summer weather of 2010 has to be considered a big disappointment. I have been told that this is not typical. Last summer was much better. It was beautiful at the end of May. Unfortunately, that was pretty much it for prolonged sun. This should go down as the summer-less summer of 2010. I think there were 30 something days of consecutive rain. The sun barely made an appearance.
September now edges forward with a sense of impending winter. I suppose I am a little paranoid about when the first snow will fly
I have to acknowledge that September may be the best weather month in New Hampshire. It often remains warm and sunny all the way into October and foliage season. Maybe Alaska will surprise me but September already seems cooler and no less wet. The days are getting shorter. Oh well.
While I would have liked more warm, the absence of stifling humidity has been a pleasure. Maybe Fairbanks very occasionally gets oppressive heat but not Anchorage. I am apparently going to be making a trip to Fairbanks this coming December. I have heard it gets to be 50 below there. I am curious to see what that feels like – at least once.
In a week or so, i will be going to Ketchikan. Earlier I spent a week in Juneau. I will write more about the southeast peninsula. Stay tuned…