Alaska Travel Magazinenext

We're paddling now. Have been since we crossed the boundary into Alaska. For several reasons. Winter is coming. Barry Jr., Bernadette, and Colette don't want to be late for the start of school. The current is slower, And, though the Yukon has made it's great Artic bend, crossing the Arctic Circle before heading South by West, the wind is still blowing in the wrong direction for us —up river.

We have only been able to use our auxiliary sails twice. They take a half hour to unpack and rig. By then, what was the perfect breeze has died, shifted direction, or turned into a squall. It is impossible to sail with our deck covers on, which means we our getting wet from every passing rain cloud. This has turned what the textbooks call an "Arctic Desert" (less rainfall than Phoenix, Arizona) into a swamp.

Paddling, we have learned to keep a weather eye out for these very visible downpours, and sometimes, can avoid the worst. Sailing, well, "ten, nine, eight, seven — here it comes —two, one. " Slosh!

No more sailing for us. Yesterday we put them up, took them down, twice. Only covered 10 miles down-river by tacking 30 across. And, on a zig between zags, Bernice and I came close to disaster.

I spotted the bears first, a big old black sow ambling along the bank with three butterball cubs bouncing along behind. A sight that had to be photographed. What better way to do it than sail right in, silent as a breeze?

Didn't have time to change to a telephoto lens on the movie camera, so I told Bernice, "Don't shoot until you can see the 'whites' of their teeth, and then keep it running while I swing around." You guessed it. Too close to shore, I lost my wind at the wrong moment. Ended up drifting in on the most dangerous "critter" anywhere —a mad Mother Bear.

Ten, nine, eight, seven ... at 150 feet, Bernice (still thinking I had complete control of our fate) opened up with a "Whir-r-r. " She got her picture. I grabbed a paddle and got the hell out of there.

Actually, kayaking is the perfect method to photograph wildlife. Barry Jr. said even with the frantic noise I made paddling straight across a rock island and 50 feet up on the beach of the opposite shore, only one cub looked our way, curious, trying to make out what the whir-r-r was all about.

So far there are 14 black bear, one grizzly, three mountain goats, one beaver, two lynx, a dozen or so porcupines, three wolves, and 21 moose, wandering about the Yukon wondering about the whir-r-r.

Most of the time our wildlife filming has gone on undetected. Just another log floating down the river. But, the other day we were attacked. Lost somewhere in the maze of sloughs, sandbars, slack water that spreads over 40 miles wide in the Yukon Flats, we came too close to a wild fowl rookery. We were dive-bombed by a formation of Sand Hill Cranes, Crazy Loons, and Arctic Terns. " Duck! " Where's a Duck? " "Ten, nine, eight . . . too late — I meant look out for mad mother hens. "

A miss, fortunately. As was our brief encounter with a Ms. Moose swimming across the river. Though we had the right-of-way according to nautical rules of the road, (ten, nine, eight...) we relinquished the rules. Ladies first. Thank goodness she didn't have a calf with her, for a mad Moose Mother is capable of out-swimming any frail kayak.

Did we give her a whir-r-r? You bet. I have exposed over an hour's worth of 16mm film on animals alone. All that is missing is a shot of a spotted Siberian salamander.

Just before leaving on this, trip, we received a letter from a biologist, who has endeavored to prove that there was once a land bridge across the Bering Straits from Asia.

Proof positive would be that this brown spotted salamander had crawled across. Would we help find the missing link for him by turning over logs and rocks near our campsites?

We have looked, but nothing so far. However, after yesterday's experience, I would like to ask — do the spotted Siberian salamanders snarl if a person disturbs their offspring?

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