Thursday, September 17, 2009

North to Alaska...Outside Influences

Early morning, the fourth of September. I was still trying to get Todo to eat some of Jack's oatmeal for breakfast, but not having any luck. Just as well; it left more for us, and it was warm, filling and welcome on a cold, crisp morning.

Rain was coming down steadily, making our rain gear and hip boots indispensable. They were the only way we had stayed somewhat warm and semi-dry. Clouds settled in and for some time now had prevented us from seeing the magnificent peaks across the bay.

We observed small, fast boats working the shoreline--hunting bear the easy way, we presumed. Todo and I pulled at the oars as we skimmed briskly across the surface of the bay. We shot toward the mouth of the stream and the area we had been hunting for the past few days. Two strangers in a speeding boat rounded the point, and seeing our intent, speeded up and raced to the beached barge, intending to cut off our access to the area.

They beached and tied off near the wreckage as one of them jumped out, rifle in hand, peering upstream. It was obvious they intended to claim the area and acted as though we did not exist. I forced conversation by asking if they were hunting. "Yep," one replied. "Good luck. We've been working this stream for the last three days," I replied. We moved past them and on upstream as if there had been no conflict of intentions.

Some half a mile beyond them we pulled the canoe into heavy cover, secured it and headed into the forest, working together for an hour or so before deciding to separate for a while. Todo took up a position settling into the crest of a sheer bluff overlooking our stream and a small opening below. I worked my way down the cliff face and used a fallen log to cross over without getting wet. Our stamina was improving. I looked over my shoulder, waved at Todo and moved off and away up the other slope.

The forest was beautiful, but thick. Had it not been for the temperature, I'd have sworn I was in a tropical rain forest. Finally breaking clear of heavy growth, I moved into an open meadow and took up a position on its far side with an active game trail in view. A light drizzle turned into a steady rain. I couldn't recall, hard as I tried, who had said "bear hunting is always best in the rain."

As the mantle of dusk settled around us, we had come back together and moved downstream in our canoe. The two men we had seen earlier had beached their boat on our island near our camp but were nowhere in sight. We struggled to reach the island quickly. We felt outrage and a degree of helplessness at the same time. Larry and Jack's canoe shot into view. They reached the island well ahead of us. They had already been aboard their canoe when they saw the strangers slide onto the rocky beach of our island. We saw Larry and his dad move into the forest immediately upon making shore. Their visit with the strangers was short, efficient and to the point. We saw the interlopers break free of the treeline, leap into their boat and leave a small rooster tail in their wake as they shot across the water, seeking only distance and refuge. They never bothered us again. Tomorrow was to be our last full day on the island. We wanted to make it count.

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