Mare, Jack the dog, and I reflect upon our second consecutive summer of volunteering as campground hosts at Chilkat State Park in Haines, Alaska. Over 4,000 visitors from around the world visit the host’s cabin deck each summer. They marvel at glacier and wildlife views, and are curious about the couple with the barking dog inside the cabin. We are curious about them too. Many of them envy our position, until hearing about life without running water and electricity. We engage in more social interaction here than back home in downtown Phoenix.
Here’s an honest day in the life:
A Swedish couple enters their car, ready to leave. Mare spots a moose. I motion for the couple to come out and see it. They hurry out and fumble for a camera. The moose suddenly charges them. They run around their car to escape, and the moose veers back into the woods. They are exhilarated, perhaps with soiled pants, but have a good story to tell.
Dale picks me up and we head out on his boat to pull the crab pots that we dropped yesterday. All pots are empty, with the exception of some starfish. It happens. He drops me off at the cabin.
A woman and two guys run towards me in a panic before I get through the door. “Can you haul our dogs home? They just got porcupined!” A large black husky and a boxer greet me, their faces peppered with white quills. I pet one and get pricked. “Gotta get these out quick,” the guy says. “Quills keep penetrating and I only have one pair of pliers.” I loan them my Leatherman before dropping them home. I probably will never see that Leatherman again.
Shortly after, the Ranger calls Mare to warn that Fish & Game shot a mama Grizzly Bear because she was breaking into residential freezers in town. Her two first-year cubs got away and are looking for food. They are dangerously unpredictable. Mare and Jack and I walk the grounds, warning campers about the cubs. Their mama is dead because of people feeding her, sometimes unknowingly, by leaving food and garbage behind. That teaches her to associate humans with food. “A fed bear is a dead bear.” At least three of the bears that Mare and I knew from last summer were shot this year because of that reason.
Finally, back at the cabin we crack a beer. I’ll grill fresh caught Salmon, thanks to a friend who knows that I didn’t catch much this summer. It happens. As soon as we sit, the crackle of car wheels on gravel is followed by footsteps on the cabin deck. Jack barks. We try to ignore the visitors, but cannot. One of us goes out to explain the view, and then answer the same barrage of questions about the couple in the cabin with the barking dog.
In a few days I’m heading to the lower 48 to attend book signing parties for my recently published novel, Broken Collar. I look forward to comforts of civilization, but worry about Mare and Jack being out here alone for 10 days. At least we have good friends that will look-out for her. Also, Jack barks differently when a bear is nearby, than he does when a visitor arrives.
At five o’clock the next morning a neighbor (nearest is 1 mile away) calls for help. The bear cubs were in his garage, so he called Fish & Game who told him to shoot them, so he did. It was both a mercy killing and a safety measure. Otherwise the cubs would die a slow death of hunger and exposure if left on their own – who will teach them to hunt and hibernate? Afterwards, “Game” informed our neighbor that statute dictated that he skin both, and bring the skins to the office. I helped him. Neither one of us had skinned a bear before. The image of that butchered carnage still simmers in our memory.
We absorb our final days of breathing the pristine beauty of wild Alaska. The screech of eagles, rumbling of waterfalls, and blowing wind through the temperate rain forest in this fjord will soon be replaced by beeping horns, sirens, planes, helicopters, and the smog and asphalt of downtown Phoenix.
Post notes: My Leatherman was returned. Book signings in Ohio exceeded my dreams. Back in Phoenix our toilet leaked with every flush and we had to piss in the yard until the plumber arrived…that did not happen with outhouses.
Jack now swims in irrigation water rather than in the Chilkat Inlet. He barks at intruders rather than bears. Perhaps life without running water or electricity is easier than folks think? We miss Alaska…