Black bears are everywhere. My faithful lab treed a yearling on our backyard forest land. Just big enough to be away from his mom, he yelped and bawled as he swayed in the treetop.
In a stereotypical event at a campground, my young family watched, enthralled, as three very large ones smothered a picnic table at an adjoining campsite barely 50 feet away.
In a characteristic night raid and rattling of the garbage can, a big bruin glared over the upended can at my flashlight, his massive head sporting a shiny black mane not unlike a lion’s. When his foraging was done, this beast could have gone to his left and easily accessed the woods over a 3 foot landscape wall. Instead, he went right, and stretching out his burly body, he bounded over a six foot high retaining wall as if it wasn’t there and disappeared into the steep, tree choked hillside above the wall.
The neighbors were called the Lincoln‘s, a Native American family serving as farmhands on pastureland framed by foothills which were topped with old growth evergreen giants. Late on summer evenings, stout old man Lincoln would stride from the valley floor up a forest track in a communion with this land of the ancients. At this very spot, where the forest track began and Lincoln began his walks, a big blacky appeared.
It was after developers came and the Lincoln’s were forced out, on the very first day developer activity began in these fields formerly worked by the Native American family. While they noisily placed girders across the creek to access the old forest track, the bear casually materialized and sat back on his haunches. From barely 100 yards away, this bear observed the activity unnoticed, as if he knew his brethren were gone and his familiar valley was being forever changed right before his eyes. As I watched from across the valley, he sat and watched, shielded by the trees and unmoving, and I was moved…
Far to the north, the bears appeared as tiny black dots. You could tell they were bears when the dots moved, and through binoculars I could discern their bear features and activities. There were also white dots that were moving, even on the sheerest cliffs, and they were the mountain goats. As they went about their foraging, much of their form and mannerisms were also detected with the binocs.
From the deck of a modest sized vessel, these wild animal scenes unfolded thousands of feet up on steel gray mountain sides, well above the green boreal forest that lined the narrow water way. As if daubed on a dark green canvas, occasional white patches showed in the nearby evergreens, and these were the bald eagles.
As we cruised deep into the far reaches of this fiord, floating ice began to appear. First, a dusky white sludge of caked snow bobbed sparsely around the boat, until a few more miles brought us into an otherworldly display of glacial creations. Deep blues refracted from the hollowed out insides of sculpted ice, with silver white spires and nodules extending from the outer surfaces. As we forged through the ever widening fiord, these auto sized bergs appeared by the dozens, each a unique sculpture scattered about in a magical display.
Large floating shelves served as ready made pontoons for languishing harbor seals that casually eyed the vessel as its gentle wake cleaved their icy channel. While watching the seals with their frolicking summer pups, solid walls of ice appeared, lining the fiord until it ended at the expansive glacier that fed it. Ice bergs were massive here, and the 40 foot ship was dwarfed in this amphitheater of ice walls soaring to the height of a 10 story building. The ship idled in close to the walls, lining up broadside for the view, as cracking and popping sounds indicated ice chunks were constantly calving into the wide sump.
Suddenly, after some minor cracking, an entire surface of the glacier broke free, dislodging a huge wall of ice. In the tense moments of this powerful spectacle, it was unclear when the calving would stop, with ice potentially collapsing indefinitely and swamping the entire fiord in a tsunami event. As it was, the ship’s captain shouted to hang on and immediately gunned the engines, effectively swinging the bow forward to face the huge swell that erupted from the crashing ice.
My college bound son Josh, my wife Carlin, and myself grabbed the rail and each other, bracing for a a white knuckle roller coaster ride as the wave surge raised the bow up and up, then dropped it way down, raising the stern to an equal height, then dropping it, and us, with each crazy contortion. Had the small ship stayed broadside to the swell, a capsize could easily have occurred.
Later, as the swells subsided and we marveled over the newly formed ice bergs, the tenured captain acknowledged that this was the largest glacier calving he had witnessed in a long time, if not ever. Glaciation with shades of global warming!
Where on Earth?! Taku Fiord, Alaska
Kentuck Inlet of Coos Bay, Oregon
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon