I love watching our guests relax as they transition from their stress-filled lives into our peaceful, wild world. When they first step off the floatplane, they are often quiet and perhaps even a little wary. They’ve just flown forty-five minutes into the heart of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, and there are no roads or stores here. There’s just a small lodge and a few boats.
We feed them lunch, Mike explains what they will be doing for the next few days, and we tell them to meet us at the dock in twenty minutes for their first-afternoon cruise on our 43-ft. boat. They laugh at the sea otters and harbor seals and snap photos of bald eagles and other wildlife, but most remain quiet, and separate groups keep to themselves.
On the first full day, we go either bear viewing or fishing, and by that evening, I begin to see the first signs of relaxation, as our guests step out of their lives for a few days and into a world that revolves around tides and wild animals. They ask us questions about the wildlife they’ve seen, tell us about their families, and describe other travel adventures they have had. They linger for a few minutes after dinner, discussing the day’s events with their fellow adventures.
By the fourth day, the mood on the boat is often raucous. These strangers, who on day one traded only polite comments, are now teasing each other and sharing photos and e-mail addresses. They sigh the last morning when they step off our boat for the final time. They complain that the week flew by too quickly and vow to return again soon.
We’ve had beautiful weather so far this summer, and we’ve enjoyed great whale watching. At times, we’ve been surrounded by fin whales, and one of the highlights of the summer was when a humpback breached several times right in front of us! Halibut fishing has been very good, and we’ve had some of the best salmon fishing we can remember. Pink salmon swarmed into Brown’s Lagoon in July, and we had non-stop action. Meanwhile, large schools of silver salmon filled the bay. The run was a month early, and it is likely that the early salmon were headed elsewhere and just stopped in Uyak Bay to feast on the large schools of herring and other small fish that have been so abundant this summer. The rich food base of krill and small schooling fish is also undoubtedly why we’ve had so many whales in the bay.
Due to our warm weather, we’ve had another bumper crop of berries this summer, and the bears are torn between catching salmon and feeding on berries. Bears are much more plentiful than they were the first half of last summer, but we are sometimes frustrated as we wait for them to lose interest in berries and concentrate on salmon. The rich and plentiful food source of berries and salmon the last few summers has provided great nutrition for the bears, and we’ve seen numerous groups of sows and cubs this summer.
On the home front, Mary Schwarzhans is again wowing our guests with her creative and delicious meals, and we are thrilled that Mary’s sister, Emma, is also working for us this summer. The two of them make our lives much easier and more pleasant, and our guests tell us that even if we didn’t have spectacular wildlife and fishing here, they would return to Munsey’s Bear Camp just for the food. I suspect that stepping out of their lives and truly relaxing for a few days might be another reason to return.