Monday, September 7, 2009

Leaves are Turning Yellow

Birch leaves are turning yellow here in Alaska. The degree of yellow varies as you drive from one place to another, but one thing is for certain: autumn is coming. It is dark by 9:30 p.m. and evening temperatures are running about 50 degrees. I like sleeping when it's chilly.

Saturday, September 5th we couldn't decide what to do. It was a beautiful day and we wanted to go in two different directions. We wanted to go to Homer to visit more art galleries than we were able to last time and we wanted to go to Cooper Landing to climb Bear Mountain on a beautiful day. Plus The Fisherman needed to cut down some trees for our friend The Bear in return for all the work he did for us building the road earlier this summer. The Fisherman cracked a rib early in the summer after I left and couldn't do them for him. Then work got busy and here we are. We figured we could do art galleries in the rain but not Bear Mountain or trees.

We headed east to Cooper Landing. The Fisherman climbed and cut about 5 trees. The Bear cleaned up below moving limbs and logs with a "thumbed" excavator he borrowed for the weekend. We took a break for lunch. The Bear fixed us bear burgers. They were good. After some more work, we headed out for Bear Mountain (lots of bears in this story). I can't believe The Fisherman climbed 5 trees and then climbed Bear Mountain! It's a little mountain with a tiny narrow 8/10 of a mile trail that leads through tall grasses, fireweed, alders, birch and spruce up to a large rock and a beautiful view of Skilak (SKEE-lak) Lake. The lake sort of wraps around Bear Mountain and it's foothills. Off to the east are the Kenai Mountains - the same mountain range we see from our property. There's a glacier up there, and just on the other side are the Harding Ice Fields. It's really cool to be up there. The hike is pretty steep and I needed lots of rest stops. Legs screaming, heart pounding, lungs huffing. But I did much better than I expected. We took our time.

Though I've never learned officially why it's named Bear Mountain, you can easily imagine. And it earned it's name for us this time. We didn't see the bear but we heard him. And it was pretty scary. The brush is so tall and so close - the trail is only a single-wide and in some places you are moving through fireweed and brush four feet tall or more. It easily hides a bear from view, so it's kind of scary. We wanted to hike it with The Bear and Miss K for more reasons than just their nice company. We wanted more people to make more noise and also so we'd have more "heat" (guns) with us. Unfortunately, Miss K wasn't with us because she was working. We walked the trail with me sandwiched between The Fisherman and his Rugger 480 strapped to his waist and The Bear with his shotgun slung over his shoulder.

On the way back down, The Bear was in front and The Fisherman was behind. The Fisherman and I heard a loud branch snap. That means bear. It was about 20 feet off the trail to our right. I had been instructed to get behind the guys if we encountered a bear so, after I gasped, snapped my head in the direction of the sound, and all the blood drained from my face, I stepped off the path to get behind The Fisherman. Trouble was, I was stepping backward without looking at what I was stepping into. And I promptly fell flat on my butt and my back into the uneven terrain of 2 foot tall grass. Great, I'm thinking, A bear's out there and I'm flat on my back! How vulnerable is that?! It's exactly opposite of the position you're supposed to be in if a bear comes at you. Meanwhile, during my fall, I instinctively reached up to grab The Fisherman to ease my fall. I was so unstable I continued to hold onto his arm while getting myself oriented. Only problem was, and this is a pretty significant problem, at the exact moment I was falling and grabbing him he was going for his gun to protect us should the bear be advancing rather than retreating. He had his hand on his gun trying to pull it out and I was hanging onto this arm pulling it down. If that bear had appeared and charged, we'd a been in trouble because he couldn't get his gun out! Meanwhile, The Bear didn't hear the branch break, didn't hear us say "Bear!" (probably because I don't think either of us said it) and he merely thought I had fallen down.

I'm learning that I'm not all that great in critical threatening situations. I'm pretty good in some situations. For instance, I was unanmously crowned The Most in Command of Her Faculties during our roll-over accident 6 years ago. But when it comes to a sudden threat from a wild animal in the Alaska woods, I'm running 0 for 2. The first one happened when I was here in the early summer. I failed to blog about it out of sheer humiliation, I'm sure. I was in the woods near our campsite, preparing to address nature's call. As I approached my targeted spot, I heard noises coming from the thick woods about 25 yards away. As that is the time for moose with newly born calves, I immediately thought MOOSE! After freezing for a moment, I took off back toward the van, again, not watching where my feet were going. I fell down flat onto the ground and had another "Great". moment as a whole moose-stomping-my-back scene took place in my head - just like the whole bear-mauling-my-front scene ran through my head on Bear Mtn. Afterwards, I laughed so hard about it and The Fisherman and I agreed, "Well, we can't make fun of those women in movies that always fall down when running away from danger anymore. Now we know it's real." That noise I heard? Turns out it was just the heavy dripping of water laden leaves in the forest. Even more embarrassing.

Back on Bear Mountain, it all ended fine. The bear went away, we heard one more twig snap - smaller or farther away than the first one - I got off my butt, Jerry got up to speed (and advised us to shout "Bear!" next time) and we talked a lot more and more loudly on the way down. "Heeyy, bear!" is the common thing to yell, at least in the hiking entourages I've been among. I'd add the occasional, "Go 'way, bear!" At one point, after I'd hollered that, The Fisherman chimed in with a comical "C'mere bear!" and a "Here, bear!" Funny. It reminds me of how sometimes we'd talk to our dogs in that sing-songy dog talking voice everyone uses but instead of the sweet things usually said, we'd get a kick out of saying insulting things and watching their oblivious happy responses. We'd say things like, "You're so stooooo-pid!" or "Are you an UG-ly dog????" Saying "Here, bear!" was funny at the same time it gave me a creepy feeling, despite the obvious fact that they can't actually understand what you're saying and the point is just to say something so they'll know you're there and stay away.

So we survived Bear Mountain - in all ways applicable. We sure enjoyed the peaceful time on the rock. So nice.

We went back to The  Bear's house, got to visit with Miss K for awhile, took showers, and pretty soon it was 11:30 and we headed back to Soldotna so we could go to church in the morning. If we had not planned to go to church, we would have just camped at their house.

Sunday, September 6th, we were bleary eyed and nearly comatose at 8am. Church started at 8:30...or so we thought. At 8:10 there was no one in the parking lot. (The church parking lot is The Fisherman's new camp spot till we leave.) The Fisherman re-checked the sign and it said that the church service is televised at 8:30a.m. but that the services are actually at 10 and 11. Good. We lounged around another hour or so and went in at 10. Turns out that was like a Sunday School teaching hour. Church was at 11. We were so tired we had a hard time staying awake. (I told The Fisherman I now know how we need to do strenuous hikes together. First I need to have him climb and cut down 5 trees and then we'll be more evenly matched for the hike.)

After church was an immediate nap. Woke up with a start at 2pm and headed to the grocery store and then to Jerry's again for more tree work. We had also intended to hike "The Canyon" - the Kenai River canyon we saw from Bear Mountain. But, The Fisherman was too shot and time was too short by then. They guys did trees, I cooked potatoes, onions, and peppers on the stove inside. Kim came home early and we had dinner around 8pm. Headed out at around 10:30; The Fisherman had a gig this morning.

Today - Monday, September 7th is The Fisherman's last gig. It's the last gig of the whole season. We've learned that any time there is a troublesome client, they give them to The Fisherman. Quite a compliment actually. He adjusts his guiding to their needs or desires and his clients always get fish. Today was one such trip, so hopefully he's having a good time out there.

Well, I've caught you up current. Think I'll go get something to eat. I have 3 and a half hours before I go pick him up. I'll either read my book, or perhaps go over to River City Books and look for a book Jerry recommended to us about the area. It's a book written by a local historically significant man named Peter Kalifornsky. There is such a mix of native and Russian influences in Alaska. I expected a man named Kalifornsky to be a Russian. He was, however, a native. He wrote the history of his people and also preserved in writing their language before the last known speaker of it died. His people are the Denina. I know I've spelled that wrong; there is an apostrophe and a whole 'nother silent syllable in there somewhere, but there's just no hope in me even trying. This Peter Kalifornsky has a road and a beach named after him here in the Soldotna/Kenai area. Kalifornsky Beach Road is one of the main roads connecting the two towns with much business on it. It's quite a mouthful so it has been nicknamed K-Beach Road. Much easier to say.

But I'm not headed to K-Beach Road right now. I'm going across the Sterling Highway - the main drag through Soldotna - over to the bookstore and some lunch.

I think we'll be leaving this area in a couple days. Maybe Homer tomorrow. We still haven't done any work on the cabin yet. I can't believe how fast the time is going.

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