NORTH TO ALASKA

North to Alaska: The very hungry bear

Posted Aug. 19, 2011, at 1:57 p.m.

August is here, which means it’s getting colder, with brisk mornings dipping below 40 degrees — haven’t hit freezing yet, but it’s only a matter of time. The nights are getting darker so that at 2 or 3 a.m. you can see a few stars. I’ve had to stop my mosquito vendetta at 1,455 kills — just 45 short of my goal of 1,500 — because they have died down quite a bit. The swallows are gone, and we have a bear in camp.

When I first arrived here, I was fairly nervous about bears since the have a much higher concentration here than back home. And there are grizzlies here, and in general, the bears are bigger. Yet, I really wanted to see one since I’ve only seen them a few times in my life. (I explained to those who questioned the intelligence of this statement that I didn’t want to pet one.)

So when Brody saw scat a week ago near the pipeline, I was pretty excited. I know there are some in the area because we hear people talk about them, and a month or so ago they had to call pipeline security because there was one hanging around the top of the bridge on the far side of the river. Then, a few days after Brody reported his findings, I was walking along the river and saw tracks. It had rained that morning, and some of them were definitely older than that, but there were some for which I was not sure, and as neat as it was to follow them along the shore, I did note that I was getting further and further away from camp, so I turned around.

The very next day, the bear was seen sitting in our trash barrels. He’s a small black bear — only 2 or 3 years old. Big enough, but not overly threatening. Still, Rob was very loathe to burn the trash that night, which we do daily so that we don’t have to worry about bears getting into it, and it’s much more cost-effective than trying to haul it down to Fairbanks once a week.

He told us he didn’t set the propane torch down once the whole time in case he needed to defend himself against a hungry black bear.

I myself didn’t get to see him because I had chosen to go pick raspberries when he decided to show up. I’ll admit, this was high on the list of dumb things to do when you know there’s a bear around, but I was determined to make a pie, and I figured that as long as I kept my head on a swivel, and periodically called out “here bear.”

The problem, (aside from us having to be careful about where we go outside, and my two favorite walks being taken over by a bear), is that he clearly doesn’t know how to forage. It’s only August; there is a field full of blueberries and raspberries just outside of camp, and a whole river full of salmon, and yet he’s hanging around people trying to get at our trash. We’re worried that he won’t get enough to eat and be able to survive the winter. We just hope that he learns he’s not going to get any food here and moves on, because Heidi even, who is terrified of bears, declared him “adorable” and we’d like him to live.

Catie Zielinski graduated from Bangor High School in 2007 and is a recent graduate of Cornell University. She is working this summer 120 miles north of Fairbanks, Alaska, at the Yukon River Camp.

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