In most U.S. states, we find islands of nature surrounded by a sea of humanity. Alaska on the other hand, has islands of humanity surrounded by a sea of nature. The capital city of Juneau is a prime example. Juneau is home to 32,000 residents, almost all of who are within a short walk of bathing in the woods. In fact, Juneau is surrounded by the 17-million acre Tongass National Forest, the largest temperate rainforest in the world.
I am blessed to be able to bathe in the pristine Tongass almost daily as an interpretive tour guide for Gastineau Guiding Company. Each spring, I walk or hike the trails I will be guiding guests over throughout the summer to see what is new, what has changed.
What doesn’t change is my giddy anticipation of encountering wildlife. You see, although the Tongass is home to an array of creatures, other than birds, including eagles, ravens and robins, mammals are pretty elusive in the spring and early summer, except at dawn and dusk. Dawn in late spring and summer is between 3:30 and 4:00 a.m. and dusk at 10:00 to 10:30 p.m. Too early and too late for me to be out and about when I have an 8 a.m. tour.
Therefore, I was thrilled to came across a black bear cow and her two cubs mid-day at the Steep Creek Meadow near the Mendenhall Recreation Area Visitor Center in early May. Bears sightings are actually common in the meadow in spring as it is flush with young succulent grass and other vegetation that are easy for bears to digest after a long winter’s hibernation. I use the word “common” loosely as I hear about bear sighting in the meadow in spring, but I rarely see them. I actually see more single bears grazing along the side of the road than in the meadow. Yep! I said grazing. Most people do not know that black and brown bears are omnivores. Eighty percent of their diet is vegetation.