Tag Archives: mountains

(Sea) Lions and Bears?! OH MY!

Seeing the wildlife was my favorite touristy thing to do.
Seeing the wildlife was my favorite touristy thing to do.
Our trip in Seward was certainly one to remember. Just I was starting to get used to the wide open spaces in the tundra while we were in Bethel, we flew into Anchorage (cell phone service?!) and were immediately on our way to be a tourist for the weekend in Seward, Alaska on the Kenai Peninsula. It certainly was a change of scenery going from tundra to being surrounded by tall trees, massive snow-capped mountains, and the sea. I couldn’t help but get progressively more excited as we traveled deeper into the mountains and Kenai Peninsula. Our tour guides were the best, and certainly knew all of the places to stop to get the perfect Alaskan pictures. Some of the places we stopped at included the largest Alaskan water plane “airport lake”, a lookout point towards Denali, and a stop by the “Welcome to the Kenai Peninsula” sign.
That Saturday we saw tons of sea life. For the first time in my entire life I saw killer whales, whales (sadly no dramatic jumping out of the water pictures), sea otters, sea lions, and of course LOTS and LOTS of tufted puffins. When we got to the glaciers, it was like seeing a giant monster slowly steeping into the sea. It was amazing and really cool to see the ice breaking off into the ocean. However, at the same time it was hard to grasp the fact that these glaciers are calving, and very rapidly. It wasn’t until the next day when we hiked right up next to the glacier that it really struck me that the climate is changing up here. In the car about 6 miles away form the glacier we started seeing signs that marked years dating back to about 1800. As we got closer and closer to the glacier and saw a sign that read about 1960, we were only 2 miles away from the actual ice. When you think about it, thats 2 miles. Melted away in about 40-50 years. Thats when it hit me that this is climate change thing we hear about in the lower 48 is real up there in Alaska.
We then started the trek back to Anchorage. We ate dinner and enjoyed the summer solstice festival (longest day in Alaska!) in Moose Town. We stopped at the Alaskan National Wildlife Refugee where we saw caribou, moose, reindeer, LOTS of bald eagles, foxes, owls, and (my favorite) the BEARS! I was only about 6 feet away from one of the bears at one point (of course doubled up and electrically charged fence in between us). This trip for sure made a lot of firsts for me that I will never forget!

As our trip is finally winding down, I keep reflecting back on my experiences in Seward and in Bethel. The people we’ve met and the sights I had the privilege to see have touched us all in different ways. Some stories touch others more than others. Some stories teach us to reflect on our own lives and way of living more. Seeing really made me believe. And in some stories we find connections and friendships with the people we’ve talked to. No matter what, I realized that each person and everything has a story waiting to be told. 

 

River flowing through the mountains on the Kenai Peninsula.
River flowing through the mountains on the Kenai Peninsula.

Outside Looking In

At 2 a.m. on our flight to Anchorage, I was awoken by the clamoring of ice cubes, and the crisp sudden snap of a soda can tab as the refreshment chart fumbled its way through the isle for the second time.

It surprised me that I had dosed off, so as I blinked my eyes awake, I glanced around to get readjusted to my surroundings. Then I noticed it. As I stretched, reaching into the cracks of available space, I caught a glimpse of a new light coming from the base of my window cover. I raised it slowly at first, as to not wake my neighbors, but as more of the view was revealed, the quicker I raised the cover.

Row 39 was suddenly flooded with a tranquil blue glow, and a single sigh of admiration. Coming from the moon and bouncing off the snow-covered mountains down below, the light conveyed a beautiful scene of the landscape. The feel quickly changed from tranquil to excitement, as I was overcome with joy, pressing my nose against the glass to get the best view possible. Then, one-by-one as my neighbors woke up, we all shared the same sense of awe and child-like excitement and wonder.

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Then I learnt what it felt like to be on the opposite side of that window; To be a mountain that unwillingly chose to stand out.

Shortly after arriving in Bethel and getting settled, one of our guides, Sarah, took us on a walking tour of the town. As we trenched through the sandy mud between the spaced-out houses and buildings along the sides of the roads, we were greeted with a similar gaze of wonder. Cars and people passed by, with faces pressed against the window, following us for as long as their view could allow. Buildings where groups of people ran to the windows, as if to watch a parish parade on a warm summer day. Suddenly toys, bikes, and pets became boring, and we became the center of attention.

As Sarah put the town on display, it seemed more to me that I was the one on display. A group of white students, coming to see what this town is all about, almost making it their business. With all the pressing issues currently facing Bethel, I slowly gathered a sense of pride and independence coming from our onlookers. However, It wasn’t until a  whisper of “Go home” from a passer-by hit my ears that I both realized and understood.

In the past, the people of Alaska and the Yup’ik culture has had people come and try to convert them, change their ways, and potentially turn them into something they were not. Now, in a time where their very livelihood is threatened, and change and fear sit on the horizon, the last thing they may want is outsiders.

I don’t expect to change things here in Bethel, I don’t even think at this time it’s possible. I’m not even sure I’ll have an impact here. I know there are many things I still don’t understand, but that instead is why I’m here; to learn.

In our time and preparation for this trip I’ve grown more and more interested and invested in these people and their culture.

I only come to help tell their story.