Chasing Bears

Sunday was our last day in Cordova. It felt a little surreal at this point, as Gary and Libby had been overly generous in opening their home to us, and Megan and I had no problem settling into this dynamic. It was sort of conflicting remembering that we had an actual home back in Virginia, when we had so easily shifted our concept of home to the cozy cabin.

Megan and I took Sunday morning to sleep in; I had intended to get up and go to church but my body, which had begged me to never ever get up from the lush nest of covers and blankets, couldn’t comply this time. I kept my eyes squeezed shut until the absolute last second that I could.

We joined the group back over at Gary and Libby’s somewhere between 9 and 10, and were pleased to see mostly everyone else was still in their PJ’s as well. Everyone was sort of idly completing the remainder of tasks we had from the previous night, clearly worn out. At one point, Libby collected some of the scraps of food from the dinner and told us we could scatter it in the backyard to try to attract eagles. Greg, clad in his polar bear PJ’s, took charge of this task and went out back to scatter the scraps by the waterside.

“This smells pretty good,” his voice carried over the yard and back to the porch, where we were watching him and trying to repress fits of giggles. “Eagle food? This could be Greg food.”

Suzanne had to leave that morning, so we exchanged goodbyes and then spent the remainder of the morning at the Powder House, mostly watching Greg work and offering to pitch in if needed.

After lunch, Libby offered to drive us up Power Creek Trail, a 4.5 mile narrow driving path that ran alongside a river. “If you guys want to see a bear,” Libby informed us. “This trail is your best chance.” I couldn’t recall if we had discussed chasing bears, but regardless I was excited. We still hadn’t seen any moose, and although we had seen the sea lions and otters, we were enticed by the possibility of any wildlife we might have the opportunity to see.

We piled once again into the Tahoe, and headed out toward the trail. The ride over was scenic and felt refreshing even though we were inside the car. There was a light fog kissing the top of the water, dancing under the mountains that emulated the rich green that emerged the previous day in the sunshine.

Libby spoke of her past and how she and Gary came to be and how she acquired the restaurant and had put her life into it. Megan and I listened silently, impressed by how she had overcome her hardships, her stories back-dropped by the ice-blue waters that snaked alongside us through our ride.

Amidst her stories, Libby pointed out some of the plants that spiked up on the side of the path, identifying them and their uses. One in particular, a tall spiky plant with purple flowers, she explained was “Fireweed” – an Alaskan plant that made a sweet jelly. She informed us the process was difficult and most people wouldn’t eat it because it produced a bitter taste, but she had perfected it. Fireweed season was tapering out, so the purple flowers were sparse among the plants, but it left the spiky stems that seemed to be where the name derived; they ran a rich yellow-red, like flickering flames along the waterside.

Libby told us when we could stop whenever we wanted to take pictures, but we didn’t oblige until she physically stopped the car on an edge of the road that overlooked a small expanse of water that trickled under an opening in the path to a small of pool of water on the other side of the road. To the right of us, where the lake was, there was a portion of the creek that was separated from the open river by a dense stretch of land that included twisting trees with heavy, mossy foliage. It was beautiful and something seemingly out of a fairy tale. The trees, however, were not the most important part of this creek, for swimming upstream was a large run of bright, pink, fat salmon. No bears, but more salmon than I had ever seen in the wild together in my lifetime.

We spent a decent chunk of time trying to capture the image in front of us on film, but nothing quite did it justice, so we finally dedicded to get back in the car and continue to try to track the bears.

Unfortunately, this turned out to be a fruitless quest, but in lieu of wild bears we were gifted with an open overlook at the end of the trail that satisfied this adventure.

I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I knew what I was thinking: this was the most beautiful place I had ever seen in my life, and I couldn’t believe we were on earth. This disbelief was something I would return to frequently within our time in Alaska, but it never lessened the impact of the views that we were fortunate to inhale. Floating softly atop the water were a few large swans, feeling as permanent to the picture painted before us as the heavy mountains that always seemed to encircle us.

Aside from the lack of bears, we had our fill of Power Creek Trail and turned around to return back to our Cordova headquarters. We had one more driving adventure ahead of us that day, although we didn’t know it at the time.

I kept my nose pressed against the glass on the way home, trying to create a mental snapshot of the landscape to cherish when I couldn’t have it anymore.

Man, Alaskans are so lucky.

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