Adventures of an Arctic Chihuahua

Living Small at the Far Edge

Archive for Bison

Cows and Big Puppies on the Kodiak

fog-lifting

I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye, there it was.  A bison?  We were flying at about 500 ft, on a windy and rainy day, our young pilot skirted the water’s edge along the low lying edges of gold. One could count twigs.  My immediate reaction was that this was a bison below, broad, thick, deep brown, furry around the shoulders.  That thought was rejected before reaching a state one could call real cognition.  Next my mind went to Musk Ox.  Can you see a pattern here?  Large and broad along the shoulders, big head. Brown, furry…Kodiak.  Moose?  Nah.  By this time thoughts were actually coming to some vague waking shape.  ‘Moose‘ was rejected before it had really even been considered. Even so, I tried to make it fit. Reality was a bit disconcerting. The creature was, I told myself, after all a dark brown that stood out from winter grasses much like a moose stands out in a snowy wood.  Hmm.  Problem was that this creature was not spindly enough and I am told there are no moose on Kodiak Island. Cow!  That’s it!  The most plausible explanation.  It’s a cow all by it’s lonesome in the middle of no where. There are no humans, no other cattle and large predatorial monsters wandering around. Right! By now we were flying beyond the beast.  I turned craning my neck for one last glimpse.  It was as brown and as placid in the field as would be a good sized and meaty bull.  That was my first glimpse of a real Brown Bear or Ursus arctos middendorffi, Kodiak style.

 Back at the ranch so to speak, or the place I was staying while working in one of the Kodiak Island villages, it was mentioned I might not want to walk around much outside “because of the bears.”  I was informed that a local resident had seen large bear tracks within the past few days.  Nearby.  Yes?.  I’d heard this before and had yet to see any sign of the elusive Kodiak bear.  They are supposed to be hibernating now anyway.  Never-the-less, I was cautious as I walked about in this area set away from housing and the few businesses, the boats.  There had actually been a bear near the school yard perhaps 8 weeks ago.  I knew this to be true based upon photographs taken, stories told, and by the fact that a large dumpster sits near that particular site.  I was beginning to wonder if this cautionary note had been nothing more than general concern about the POTENTIAL of bear appearances.  Because the reports of bear were not current, and there was no sign of or expectation of them in the near area, I set out around the building and the snow plow’s path to see for myself.

Uh yeah. There they were. Dog tracks. Large dogs tracks.  I’d seen the dogs running alongside their family cars on the way to the airstrip to pick up passengers, mail and cargo.  These were large Labradors, black and yellow, friendly tail wagging family dogs.  I kept walking, an eye now to birds in the woods not far out back and behind the building. 

 I cannot begin to describe my initial reaction.  Not a bear, thank goodness, but what had been clearly dog tracks led to an area where a much larger track appeared.  Much larger.  Big puppy. There were the toe imprints, smooth, rounded, the size of worry stones, something that would fit nicely into one’s palm.  Someone has been walking around barefooted. I wished.  I wanted a very large person to have been walking around in the snow without benefit of shoes or socks.  Surely that is what it was.  Yup.  I took a few more steps to follow and there was the mother footprint of all time.  I gasped and my heart began to pound.  I took a very large breathe as though preparing to slip underwater for a VERY long swim.  Then my voice returned and out came, something that can only be described as referring to sacred feces. 

Have you ever seen the footprint in snow of a Kodiak bear?  Huge.  Several prints were blurry and smeared into the snow, melted and refrozen now which was a good thing temporally. Gidget’s fingertip sized feet give the impression of a real sized dog once the snow around her delicate prints begins to melt around the edges.  There is no way this new line of prints can have been from a large dog then melted around the edges to give such a larger-than-life appearance. These prints were not examples of this phenomenon. This print showed toe pads so distinct and separate, just about a full inch of untouched snow between each pad.  There were other shapes planted in the ice; some holes had long and deep scratches into the snow towards the end of each pad mark:  claws!.  Yow!  I stepped into the shape of this Big Foot sized hole.  I placed my second foot in and snuggled it up next to the first.  Despite wearing a pair of those padded suede slip-ons in a wide men’s size, despite the thick red raglan wool socks to insulate them further, there was still room around the edges and in the length of the print for more foot. Oooooo!  Sacred feces!

Of course I looked up and around.  You know the routine: stop, look and listen, a warning from one’s earliest lessons about safety.  Nothing.  Whew.  I gingerly followed the prints to see where they went, then again, where they had come from.  Within 15 feet of the back door, the prints wended their way towards a couple of burn barrels and a telephone pole, made their ways between the two and into the shrubs separating me from a nearby cluster of village homes. Where had this bear come from?  I followed out and around behind the building where the paws came to within 10 feet of the building, meandered around the fuel tank and disappeared into the graveled scar left by the snow plow and about 25 feet from the front door.  On closer inspection I could see they had originally come onto the gravel yard from brush along the airport road. 

I was out here just two weeks ago and there had been no snow on the ground. Within 24 hours of this arrival in town, so I was told, it had snowed 6 inches.  These were not fresh tracks but they were certainly not as old as I would have liked them to be and most certainly were made within the past few days if not within the past 24 hours. So this is what “clean” fear feels like.

There are some fears that are born of worry.  These bring a chronic anxiety that eats away at one’s well being.  These are not beneficial-to-the-soul sorts of worries.  Then there are worries born strictly out of the natural world, the world where we belong, the one we are an integral part of.  These natural fears are the worries ‘born of bear’ if you will. 

I wondered what Gidget might do if she encountered a Kodiak Bear. I first imagined her barking and challenging much the same as she will try with a large and gentle dog.  Next I recalled the way she will step back to stand on my feet or hide behind my leg when she is genuinely fearful and wants to be picked up.  Yup.  I think I will take the Gidget tactic from here on out.  No longer will I suspect others from putting one up on the “new kid” and faking footprints the way the Big Foot prints were faked in northern California and Oregon.  These are big puppies!  No shame in respecting mama nature or mama bear. No shame in hiding behind someone’s leg.  Ok.  That might be going a little too far. 

Suffice it to say, one of the small take home lessons for me today is that sometimes it’s okay to accept a ride in a car rather than to walk the few blocks and the offer of a ride might be a genuinely sincere expression of concern. ‘Sides, it’s far too cold to be running around barefooted. Can you give me a lift?

Stay warm, wear thick socks. Watch out for big puppies.

 Always,

Jennifer and Gidget, the small (and large hearted) Arctic Chihuahua