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Friday, August 7, 2009

Grin and Bear It

The community ride driver on Wednesday morning told us she awoke to find a bear relaxing in her drive. He disappeared long enough for her to leave for work. But he reappeared and prevented the children from being taken to their sitter. Little did we know that we would have our own close encounter later in the day.

We rode to the far side of the island, out beyond Thimbleberry trail where the most recent bear attack had occurred. Reports in the newspaper said that last Friday's event involved a biker who was surprised by a bear from behind. After rolling on the ground in an odd ball of human, bike, and bear, she was able to stand with the bike between her and the bear, stare at him and scream, which prompted the bear to slip away into the woods, and people to come to her rescue. She suffered scratches on her back, and was out the next morning at the Farmer's Market.

Our stop was the end of the bus line: Whale Park. It was deserted when we arrived. There are two viewing spots that overlook the bay. Information there says everything from whales to sea lions to sharks can be seen. At this time of year, we saw nothing but waves and a couple boats. Just to be safe, we sprayed ourselves with Bear-B-Gone -- wait: there is no such thing. So we just set off on foot for the two-mile hike to the end of the road. Along the road that wound back and forth through the hills, the water always at our side, we whistled and sang off key so as not to startle any bears. We saw a big pile of fur at the side of the road and wondered if a bear had been scratching itself there. Eventually we came to another trail head, then a fishery, and finally our destination: Fortress of the Bear.

This is a non-profit operation constructed on the site of an old city works. Two old water reservoirs have been converted and built upon with all donated and reused junk, to create a habitat for chickens, rabbits, pigs, ducks, sheep, goats, and, of course, bears.

The bears are brothers who were abandoned by their mother two years earlier. They share one of the reservoirs as their permanent home. This is the best and safest way to encounter a bear. We also were able to pet the sheep and the jealous goat, as well as feed the pigs what they had gluttonously shoved out of reach under the fence. The entire setting is literally pieced together out of reused stuff, like an under-budget Mad Max film set. Entry fee per person was $10. The experience was not really worth the money or the two-mile walk. But the project is only two years old, and the efforts are admirable.

Meanwhile, updating a previous story, the fish are making their way upstream. We still have not received any rain, and meteorologists have declared Sitka to be suffering a mild drought. The past couple days the sun has been filtered through a haze of smoke from Canadian wildfires. But the indomitable salmon have nevertheless made it from the bay, through the estuary zone, to mass below the bridge over the Indian River. In the photo below they are the large splotch of black shaped vaguely like the Big Dipper. And several intrepid ones can be seen making their way among the rocks toward their happy spawning grounds. Each day we take a few minutes to watch and cheer them onward.

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