One Man's Paradise

The Blue Bear

Within the last 10 years a number of hybrids between polar bears (Ursus maritimus) and grizzlies (Ursus arctos) have been sighted in Canada. The two species usually do not come in contact, as their territories do not overlap. However, this has changed recently due to climate change.

From bears kept in captivity we knew that grizzlies and polar bears can produce offspring. Furthermore, their offspring was fertile. That begs the question whether brown bears and polar bears are separate species. Scientists claim that polar bears and brown bears first diverged as a species between 479,000 and 343,000 years ago. I thought a species is defined that only members of the same species can create fertile offspring. Nevertheless, they are both closely related.

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A “blue” grizzly

So what’s all the fuzz about? I just read “The Blue Bear”, a “true story of friendship, tragedy, and survival in the Alaskan Wilderness”. Lynn Schooler writes about his adventures with Michio Hoshino, a famous Japanese wildlife photographer, who was mauled to death by a grizzly in Kamchatka. They both went on several trips in Southeast Alaska to find the evasive glacier bear. There are some pictures of bears with a silver-blue coat floating around. Maybe another species? Maybe just a color variation?

Not that important. I take it as another riddle of Nature.

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Into the Wild

One year ago to the day…

An adventure began. I planned on spending a summer in Denali National Park. I did not know what to expect, I had no expectations. Oh I was curious, but I did not comprehend the excitement of our coach when we loaded up the vans and headed for the Park. We would be the first and only group, besides the road maintenance workers and the rangers to drive along the 92 miles of dirt road from the park entrance to its very end at Kantishna. Then, I did not know the privilege of having this experience. And what a trip it was.

The message board at the Toklat gift shop on May 24, 2013..

The message board at the Toklat gift shop on May 24, 2013..

It was a gorgeous day. Blue sky, the sun brought the snow alive, the road was a dark band winding its way along rivers that had just cracked the ice. Breakup was in full progress. A late snowstorm had dumped a couple feet of snow in the higher elevations, giving the mountains a pristine look.

At mile 30, the ranger checked our placard and waved us through. All other vehicles had to turn around at this point. The road to Kantishna had opened the day before. It was muddy, wet, and just wide enough for one van in places. Our advance team had called that we should not stop in muddy places and under no circumstance drive on the shoulder. The road around Polychrome Pass reminded me of India. A single-lane winding mountain road without barriers. If you had a window seat on the “wrong” side pf the van, it like the view from a low-flying plane. Right down the ravines into the valley floors. We stopped for wildlife and at all the tourist attractions, which were deserted, even Polychrome Pass. Only months later, I started to appreciate the solitude of this special day.

Our coach had guided many years in Denali National Park and he was a walking encyclopedia… We learned about wolves, caribou, moose, and off course bears. It did not take long and we encountered our first bear. Two mountain bikers stood in the middle of the road making wild gestures. We stopped the vans, and learned from the bikers that they had spotted a grizzly near the road a couple hundred yards ahead. The bear had disappeared behind a curve and they were “uneasy” about finding out, where he went. We looked, couldn’t see a thing and decided to move on, slowly. And after a few turns, there he was. Digging on the side of the road for some roots or squirrels. We stopped the van, turned off the engine and gawked at the bear, who did not pay any attention to us. Good. He meandered around, inching towards our van. Stopping, digging. I am not sure he found anything edible, so he kept going getting closer and closer. Finally, he was less than 30 feet from the van and everybody snapped pictures through the windows, doors closed.

A hungry looking grizzly...

A hungry looking grizzly…

I held my breath, not sure about everybody else, but seeing a bear that close (from the safety of a van), was quite thrilling. The bear kept going and headed uphill away from us. We started the engine, only to realize that we had a flat tire. Oh wonderful, there goes the safety net. Getting out of the van with a bear roaming around is one thing, but we also had food for 30 staff and 2 weeks in the van. Naturally, the spare tire was underneath the food. So, we had to unload the food, change the tire, with a hungry grizzly around. Luckily, the bears in Denali are not familiar with human food, otherwise this may have been a different story. When all was set and done, we had a good story to tell. No harm done.

There is one more memory of that day, the moment I saw Denali for the first time up close, if you can call 20 miles up close. It feels up close, because that mountain is so huge. There are valleys and 5000 ft tall mountains in front of the massive formation of Denali. In other areas they would look like impressive mountains in itself. But then on top of those “hills”, Denali rises another 15,000 ft. I don’t know how to describe this. This has to be seen with our own eyes. It’s a jaw dropper.

Well, that’s it for today. It was a good day then, and it is a good day now.

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One Man's Paradise

Wednesday

How is that for an inconspicuous title?

I have received many best wishes for New Years Day and sent out a few myself. Before rising this morning and “going to work” I thought about the importance of this day and our habit to come up with resolutions for the new years and to wish friends and family all the best. Nothing wrong with that.

It is one thing to celebrate the end of the old year and to welcome the new year on a particular day. On the other hand, I like to think that every day is a special day, a precious gift that I want to appreciate no more, no less than New Years Day.

In that sense, today was Wednesday for me. A beautiful winter day. We had 7 inches of fresh snow on the ground, and it was still “dumping” in the morning. The spruce trees had a fresh layer of thick snow on their branches, there were no visible human tracks around the lodge, even the foxes were still coiled up, waiting for us to break the trail. Even our backyard bear sported a new look.

Bearly wearing his crown

Bearly wearing his crown

We watched on TV  the ball drop in New York last night with the usual fanfare, crowds and bad music – 4 hours before it was midnight here in Alaska.  Our transition into the new year was almost the opposite on most accounts.

No fireworks, no neighbors, even Buckey is gone, so we are just 2 humans now in the middle of nowhere, enjoying winter in a remote lodge in Alaska. Yes, there was snow shoveling in the morning, but also packing down the runway, feeding hungry horses, maintaining our trail to the wood lot, hauling some fire wood, transmitting the weather to NOAA, cooking, eating, and relaxing in front of the fire place. I am tired and happy.

Just another day in paradise.

Not only today, but also tomorrow, the day after and the rest of the year, wishing you all a happy and joyous 2014.

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One Man's Paradise

Brrrrrrr…

Bearly

Bearly

It’s going to get cold! A couple of days around -20°F are in the forecast.

Time for comfort food, reading near the fire place, dreaming about the beach? No, it’s great here the way it is. Wouldn’t want to miss this winter experience. A couple of inches of the white fluffy stuff and the place will just look like in the post cards. The ice crystals that were covering the trees are all gone. The humidity dropped and they just disappeared.

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