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7/21/10

Nature Boy

My father should have been a naturalist or a zoologist or some other ist that pertains to animals. Marlin Perkins of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom was a regular visitor in our home (via TV, not literally people). We owned every National Geographic hardcover book having to do with animals and a set of animal encyclopedias.
I remember being at some zoo somewhere (San Francisco?) and having people ease in to listen to my dad talk about hippos. Zoo keys - who needs 'em? He loved books by Gerald Durrell. (now that guy was funny!)

Many of our family outings were geared towards nature type activities; in Guam we collected seashells (watch out for those coconut crabs!), in Miami we went to the botanical gardens or the Everglades. In Alaska, my dad would often come home and relate what he had seen that day on the ten mile drive to and/or from work: fox, beaver, ptarmigan, marmot.

And then there was the yearly pilgrimage...



to watch the salmon spawn. That's right - every year for five years we, like the salmon, were drawn to a river to struggle mightily upstream.

Now I know what you're thinking...

Exciting right?

Yeah, not so much.

Because, truly, when you've seen one dying salmon flopping around, gasping for its last breath of air, chunks of flesh missing from fights with other salmon, eye pecked out by a raven or magpie, you have seen them all. (and people wonder why I don't eat the fish - gack.)

My mother had enough slides - of just salmon mind you - to fill an entire carousel. I don't know why. Seems one or two would have sufficed.

Salmon are the candy bar equivalent to bears, they love them and the fatty fish help fatten them up before winter's deep sleep. (not sure Kodiak bears truly hibernate, but they do take long naps.) When the salmon are spawning, they make for easy pickings; the streams are so crowded with fish, you could easily pluck one out with your bare hand (or humongous paw), if you were so inclined.
In spite of not listening to Mom's warnings to take pie plates (make noise to let bears know you're there) whenever we went out salmonberry picking (bears like them too), or climb Old Woman, we never saw a bear.
Not even when we were smack dab in the middle of their Super Wal-Mart salmon fest.



But there was this one time:
We hiked up a river, name unknown or unremembered, in and out of little rocky coves, the twelve or so foot high riverbank above us shrouded with grass and foliage.

Suddenly it got very quiet and still; it seemed like even the river stopped running. The breeze quit breezing. Birds stopped singing.

It was eerie, goosebumpy.

I don't remember what Dad said exactly, but it was in a hushed voice - something along the lines of, "Walk, DON'T RUN, back the way we came. Right now."
We did.
And a cove or two down, the birds sang, the river ran, and the breeze breezed again.

I'm convinced that while we may not have seen the bear(s), the bear(s) sure saw us.

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