Watching the bears play on Sunday made me realize that September is one of my favorite months.
It’s not that I want summer to end or that I hate tourists (the local economy would be crippled without them) but it is nice to get our city back, so to speak. The pace of life slows. There isn’t that frenetic scramble of June, July and August. The chaos is getting that last trip to the alpine for deer, putting up salmon, berries, firewood — the chaos of the subsistence lifestyle. It’s about prepping for winter once the tourism industry has been mined.
Anyway, I hiked up a mountain at dawn with a buddy and we spent all day above the trees.
I’m not really a patient dude, but I sat watching bears emerge to fatten themselves with blue berries in the same bowl for over 10 hours. (Yeah, those bears.) The weather was perfect, a slight breeze to keep off the bugs, sunny and warm enough you don’t need cold weather gear, but cool enough you’re not sticky with sweat.
Between the rock faces where vegetation could grow, the alpine was green with yellow and some brown. In large swaths of land, it was impossible to avoid stepping on blueberries. This is why my buddy Ryan and I were up there. He was curious about how a blueberry bear would taste. So was I.
I watched the action near the peak from behind binoculars as he stalked. It was riveting and though he wasn’t able to take a bear, the experience was awesome. The type of day that stands out because things have slowed. When the season is swinging, everything is fun but fast. Long days fishing, guiding, selling, touring. It’s not until the edge of the season that you get to look back, take a breath, recap, then contemplate what’s next. What’s next is what those who only come to Alaska during the summer never see — the self-sufficiency of Alaskan communities. That’s why people can be so excited about October, one of the historically miserable months weather-wise.
Weather doesn’t have to disrupt or ruin the quality of life. Rain and cold and darkness are just facts. Variables. Few things sprout as fast as optimism on clear, calm days between now and May because nothing is really over. The circle just moves to the next thing which is fun in its own right.
Summer was good while it lasted, but what’s coming isn’t so bad. I’ll take rain over traffic. I’ll take literal darkness over crowded emptiness. We’re not immune to political fury up here, but it’s not everyone’s number one. It’s not everyone’s top source of validation, priority, purpose. It may be up there on the list, but there is no reason to live here if one is going to stay inside and continue a career of identity politics from behind a screen.
We live where people take their break from reality. Which says something about our reality.
As the sun turned to an orange Skittle on the horizon, I saw a cruise ship heading north. Soon they will migrate south, leaving us to settle into the season others aren’t willing to tolerate, and emerge on the other side of the year.
• Jeff Lund is a writer and teacher based in Ketchikan. “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears in Outdoors twice a month.