Last night we sailed through the rain to Kuliak Bay. Each bay we have visited has had a totally different look and feel. Kuliak seemed like the Garden of Eden. At low tide golden beaches bordered by thick grass and bushes reminded us of the Caribbean. (Never mind the temperature; we were still wearing multiple layers of clothing in the cold rain.) A little river took lead us to a grotto where a gurgling waterfall was surrounded by thick greenery and scattered flowers in bloom. The salmon have arrived after spending the last few years of life out at sea. Before they come into the fresh water and swim past the waterfall to spawn, they spend a few days in the brackish water adjusting their body chemistry back so they can reenter the fresh water where they were born. Salmon are truly remarkable creatures. As the tide moved in and out the fish were swept along, but kept swimming back and forth to stay in a zone where the salinity felt comfortable.
As we ate breakfast we could see a very small bear roaming the beach. We wondered if he was a cub and if so, where was his mother? Once we came ashore in the skiff, he didn’t look so small. But he was slender and looked bedraggled in the rain. He roamed the beach looking for various shellfish to eat. The bears do not do a good job of separating the fish from the shell. Their scat is dotted with pieces of shell that could rip a human gut to ribbons.
We went to the waterfall grotto and waited for the bears to appear to eat the salmon. No bears. No salmon. The tide was still too low and the salmon could not swim in. As we worked our way back out through the waist high grass, the little bear suddenly appeared. From ten feet away he didn’t look small at all. He was as surprised as we were and he quickly detoured and we caught our breaths. The guide said that as far as he knew, we were the first visitors to Kuliak Bay this year and this bear might have never seen people before.
We returned to the boat having had enough of the rain. I spent another hour drying two pairs of socks, two pairs of pants and making my gloves less wet. So glad I brought the hair dryer.
The crew often hangs a fishing pole or two off the back and we noticed that a pole was bent low. They reeled in a sixty pound halibut, killed it, gutted it and sliced up the filets and put them into the freezer with fifteen minutes. No wonder the halibut we had the other day tasted so good. A few minutes later a smaller halibut also took the bait and moved quickly to the freezer stage.
After lunch the rain stopped so we returned to the grotto. The tide was much higher and the salmon had moved much farther in. They leaped out of the water, making huge splashes, but there still were no bear. Finally the bear we had seen in the morning reappeared and made an unsuccessful fishing attempt. Perhaps more bears would have showed up, but it was time to go.
Packing took about two minutes. In that small cabin, we never really unpacked. The seaplane appeared on time and within an hour we were back at the hotel in Kodiak where the bear viewing adventure began. We are dirty, exhausted, and exhilarated from this novel experience. Next time we watch a nature documentary we will have a deeper understanding of all the effort, skill and discomfort that went into procuring the footage.