Tuesday, June 19, 2007

It's On

The first salmon of the year was caught here Sunday. I found out when I was walking to my post and I saw a crestfallen Imes beckoning me into the fish freezing building. There, in the cooler, was a fish much like the rainbow trout we have been catching but bigger, stronger, and wilder-looking -- a sockeye salmon, an uneasy look frozen on his face. This salmon had just returned from a 5 year long, nearly 7 thousand mile roundtrip journey into the depths of the Pacific Ocean and back with the hellbent purpose of passing his genes onto the next generation. After successfully evading the predators of the deep sea, the gill nets of commercial fishermen in Bristol Bay, and the talons of hungry eagles, his consuming ambition was finally denied by a middle-aged physician wearing enough fly-fishing gear to look like a runway Cabela’s model. Imes’s dejection was due to the fact that he had caught the first salmon in Brooks River for the last 5 years. So Imes didn’t get the title this year, but he did get dinner since he went out right after work and caught the second one of the year at the mouth of the river.

The first salmon of the summer is quite a big deal here at Brooks River, as it has been for the last 4000 years or so. To the precursor of the modern Eskimo -- the remains of whose dugout houses sit a few hundred yards from my current cabin -- it meant an end to the starvation and struggle of winter; the promise of a few rich and fruitful months that would make the rest of the harsh year worthwhile. To us today it still signifies an opportunity for world class fishing, but more importantly it gives us an important message: the bears are coming.

He have been seeing a few bears around camp, mostly some young females, but over the last few days it has started to pick up. I watched a sow rest while her three cubs, all different shades of blond and brown, played in the surf of Naknek Lake. Love is in the air in June, and the single females have attracted suitors from far and wide. I watched a subadult male we call Knucklehead try to pursue Amelia, a young female, up and down the beach and through our camp. I watched Imes charge this bear to keep him from entering camp. (That’s right, I said charge… as in sprinting at a grown male brown bear, arms waving, making strange puffing noises with his mouth.) After wondering how this scrappy young buck was able to stake a claim to a prime female, our questions were answered with the appearance of B.B. B.B. is the dominant male around here, a monstrous old brown bear known for his ill temper and unforgiving disposition. In training, we watched a video of B.B. fighting a smaller male bear who refused to back down; B.B. tore the flesh off the his back down to the bone and left him within inches of his life. Numerous cubs with inexperienced mothers have not been so lucky. When I first came around a corner saw B.B. lumbering away from me about 30 yards ahead, following Amelia out of camp, nothing had prepared me for that sight. He stands on all fours at least chest high to me. His hindquarters are covered in scars, evidence of battles none of which were lost. Needless to say, we have not seen any more of Knucklehead.

A few days ago the salmon were just gathering at the mouth of the river. Now they are starting to come up into the river, and some people have even reported seeing them try to jump the falls. Soon, the spectacle that this river is famous for will commence as bears congregate at the falls and the lower river to fish and fatten up for the winter. Equal to the spectacle of the bears will be the spectacle of the bear-viewers; starting in July we get hundreds of visitors each day who fly in in the morning and out in the evening just to see bears for a few hours. For now Brooks Falls is just a small waterfall on a mile-long river, and standing there it is hard to believe that such a seemingly insignificant place is the basis for the health of an entire ecosystem, the survival of a community of brown bears, the strength of a regional economy, and the spiritual fulfillment of thousands of people.

(picture coming soon)

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mason,

I'm so glad that your mom sent me the info about your blog. Reading what you write is almost like being there with you.

I really enjoyed the picture of you standing in front of your loft. It brought back memories of a much smaller and younger Mason in a different loft.

Keep up the good work.

Nancy

Anonymous said...

I hope you make friends with BB. Distant friends. carry your whistle. Keep up posting, I check it everytime we get internet; your mother does so more often. See you soon.
Love, Dad.

Anonymous said...

Mason, my favorite nephew;
We are enjoying your Blog immensely. We check it almost daily. Great photos and the stories are very entertaining. Keep up the good work!If you need anything, let us know.
--Uncle Steve

Mason said...

Nancy, I still remember the old motorhome bunk if thats what youre talking about. I am having a great time but I really miss Dicks wings.
Uncle Steve - thanks for the package, it is awesome. I have been stuffing my face with twix bars. Tell Aunt Peg I said thanks too.

Anonymous said...

Well, we tried to cover both ends there....enjoy!
--Uncle Steve

Rodrigo said...

Oi, achei teu blog pelo google tá bem interessante gostei desse post. Quando der dá uma passada pelo meu blog, é sobre camisetas personalizadas, mostra passo a passo como criar uma camiseta personalizada bem maneira. Até mais.

Ms. Weitzel said...

Just watched a program on the TravelChannel on the "Top 10 Parks for Viewing Wildlife". Your park was #2 on the list, just behind the Grand Tetons. Congratulations!

Anonymous said...

no blogs since june 19? is life too exciting or too dull?
mackay

city girl said...

hey mason,
Why would you carry around a whistle? To call for help or deter bears?