Again the fog was so think it was like rain. The drip, drip of water from the trees on my tent did not inspire me to get dressed and check out the beach. But I did my usual early morning scan of animals and weather and it looked to be a slow day. We were hauling out today and reorganizing for Inugiak. I was wishing for a couple of extra days, but knowing that I had to be in Kodiak by the 15th my time was running out.
With visibility at a minimum I entertained myself using my macro lens and flash to reshoot all the flowers in soft light with water droplets all over them. Kent took off to look for a September campsite near Nursery Hill. Shooting flowers just did not provide the same interest as going for bears so before the hour was up I changed gear and headed out on the flats. Suzie walked with me for a while and told me about her thesis on bears and asked if I would be willing to provide photos for some articles she was planning to write. It sounded like a fine collaboration to me.
I hung out for a while with a group shooting on the flats but since the fishing boats had shown up yesterday the bears were not getting any fish. I was hoping for some boar shots and we literally stumbled upon one sleeping between the logs high up on the beach. We then spotted Rex, the alpha boar of the range and followed him out to the meadow. He looks like a true warrior with one ear flopped over, a huge scar on his scalp, multiple scars on this neck and numerous open wounds on his body. I would hate to see the condition of his last opponent. He or she is likely dead. Just before I arrived in Katmai the film crew had been watching a different sow and cubs. After the first day they did not see her again, only the cubs wandering by themselves. She had to have been killed and the cubs would not last long without her. It is such a sad thing that only 50% of cubs survive. The guides tell me that first-time mothers almost always lose their cubs to the fate of other bears. Top of the food chain or not, life is a constant struggle.
When you walk alone with bears, it really does ground you and make you aware of where you stand in the food chain and within nature. You become ultra aware of your surroundings and something rather primal takes over.
As I walked the long hike back to camp alone, I was torn between wanting to have my first face-off alone with a bear, and getting back without incident. No bears crossed my path, so initiation would have to wait for another day. For now I would just have to busy myself for the afternoon packing up camp in preparation for our high tide pick up in the skiff.
Back on board the Kittiwake and the weather was starting to turn for the worse. The decision was made that I would have to leave the next morning (après fog) otherwise I may be fogged in for days. I would miss the excursion to Inagiak. It was tempting to try to stay but back in the real world I had an exhibit starting in two weeks, barely enough time to process my best images and get them printed.
Once the decision was made to leave on the next morning flight, I began to look forward to getting home. At the same time it felt like I was leaving in the middle of a great movie. I wanted to find out what happened with Melissa and her cubs, see her teach them how to fish, and watch the big bears compete for space on the flats once the salmon began their big runs. I wanted to see the Scrappy and Hope stick their heads up in the fireweed and grow their heavy coats for winter. I was confident that Melissa would protect them well. I said my silent farewells to the bears and was surprised at how emotional my departure was. For the time being my work here was done but I knew that I would return again soon to the bears beneath the Devil’s Desk.