As fireweed transforms the mountains into a Christmas quilt of red and green, and the cottonwood leaves fade to yellow, I realize summer is nearly over, and autumn is about to begin. Our summer trips run until mid-September, and by then, the morning air bites, and the wind can rage. Some days are wet, and other days are wetter. Last year we had snow on the final day of our “summer” season.
Why do we run our summer trips so late? Why do we continue to take guests at least two weeks after most tourism businesses in Alaska shut down for the year? Why do we fight autumn storms and endure the sometimes unpleasant September weather? It’s all about bears. No matter how preoccupied Kodiak bears may be with eating berries in July and August, they turn their attention to salmon in September as they begin to add inches of fat for winter hibernation.
We see more bears chasing salmon in September than we do any other time of the summer. Not only are bears more plentiful and more visible in September, but they are also more photogenic. Gone is the ratty, rubbed fur of July, and in its place, a full, dark coat gleams in the autumn sunshine, and yes, we also have some gorgeous, sunny days in September. By September, cubs are learning to fish, and it’s fun to watch their mothers teach them the finer points of chasing down a salmon.
We’ve had a great summer so far. We’ve seen several family groups of bears (sows and cubs). The deer population has exploded due to mild winters the last few years, and we always see does and fawns wandering the beach at low tide. We’ve also enjoyed watching red foxes that range in color from red to black, and of course, we’ve seen bald eagles everywhere. On the ocean, we’ve watched fin whales nearly every day, and while we haven’t seen as many humpbacks as we did last year, we were thrilled the other day when one breached in front of us. We saw killer whales once this summer and had Dall’s porpoises play in our bow wake. We’ve laughed at the antics of sea otters nearly every day and have photographed harbor seals hauled out on rocks. One day while we were fishing, a young seal swam up to the boat and curiously watched us. Everyone grabbed cameras, and the little guy stayed there and posed for photos.
We enjoyed excellent pink-salmon fishing in July and had great halibut fishing in August. The largest halibut so far was a 128 pounder caught in mid-August. We are still waiting for the silver salmon to arrive, but they should be here soon.
All of our guests would tell you that one of their favorite things about their stay at Munsey’s Bear Camp was the food. One guest said, “I never dreamed we’d eat so well at a lodge in the middle of the wilderness.” When another guest stepped off the float plane, and Mary introduced herself, the guest said, “I’ve been reading about your wonderful meals and was hoping you’d still be here.” Yes, Mary Schwarzhans is again dazzling us with her wonderful, creative meals. It doesn’t take long for our guests to fall in love with Mary and wait expectantly for her next culinary delight. We love Mary not only for her wonderful food but also for her quirky sense of humor, and boundless energy.
I know in most areas in the U.S., autumn is still a few weeks away, but the season is already upon us here on Kodiak Island, and we are ready for whatever it brings. Our September trips may be sunny and beautiful, but more than likely, we will battle a few storms. No matter what the weather does, though, the bears will be chasing salmon, and they will make our September spectacular.