Hey, Bear!

"Do you guys get bears out here?"

It's a frequently asked question to which I knew the answer before I arrived.

"Yes, but just black bears. No grizzlies."

I wasn't at the Field Station 24 hours before I witnessed the answer firsthand. I was looking out over Lost and Found Lake, about a half-mile from the Station, with a group of visiting teachers when someone pointed out a black form on the opposite shore. (Lost and Found Lake might be more accurately termed a pond, mind you.)

Lost and Found Lake.

Binoculars went up, cameras clicked, and we had confirmation: the black shape was a black bear!

What a robust nose!

The bear saw us, but he didn't seem particularly interested. He padded a few feet away and lay down for a nap.

That  was my first sighting of a bear from foot -- I saw a few from the car window with my mother on our Great Alaskan Road Trip last summer -- but it would not be my last.

Two days later, I emerged from the Low Tide Trail. My hiking partner pointed across the tidal lagoon, and there she was, a black bear balancing on driftwood for fun!

This black bear didn't seem worried about us, either. As long as we keep our distance, they keep theirs, and nobody gets surprised, we'll all be great friends.

One of the most imaginative tips I've recieved as a guide was a package of homemade bear jerky. Every Alaskan resident gets to shoot three bears a year, though of course most don't take up the offer. Our eight-year-old visitor had shot this jerky's black bear himself. And here I'd thought butchering my own rabbits made me cool.

I haven't seen a bear since my first three days at the Station, but I always carry bear spray. And when my friend Laura and I go running on the trails, we holler our rambunctious greeting at every turn: HEY, BEAR!!!