Taking the Kids to Alaska and Meeting Some Bears
Eileen Ogintz - Taking the Kids
Bears on the runway?
Welcome to "bear camp," an outpost of the
"We had 60 bears last night," says our 28-year-old guide,
It appears we've picked the perfect time to visit. Vermillion, who's called Verm, explains there are more bears than there have been in years, including three sets of triplets and three sets of twins all born this spring -- some no bigger than a
"Did I mention the Bald Eagles, the moose, the fox who also call this bit of paradise home? Despite the hefty fees to visit here -- check www.greatalaska.com for packages -- many families report their time at Great Alaska to be the highlight of their Alaskan trip. We have this privileged locale because Great Alaska has leased this land -- ringed on three sides by this critical wildlife habitat and national park -- from a 71-year-old homesteader named
Our home for the night is a very comfortable yurt on a platform, complete with two cots and comforters, wind-up flashlights and very clean portable toilets plastered with Vermillion's excellent bear photos, including one of a bear dancing in a creek. In the dining tent, we're served chicken cordon bleu, salad, fresh rolls, potatoes and carrots, even wine courtesy of
My two traveling companions, my 13-year-old cousin
This is the wilderness, after all, not a zoo or theme park. But in the 12 years the camp has been here, there's never been a problem. Still, anything could happen. "We are diligent every minute of the day," says Stoner. "We want to have a benign encounter every time. We don't chase them. We don't run from them. We don't cross the creek into their habitat, either."
Just as big a challenge, I think, is keeping the kids amused with no TV, Internet, or cell phones. "Bear viewing is a patience game," Stoner says, but concedes that 21st-century kids aren't very patient. "I try to relate the bears to their lives. Everything the bears do is a life lesson," she explains. The cubs wrestling teaches them to protect themselves, they learn not to get into someone else's space and how siblings must watch out for one another after the mama bear "pushes them out of the nest," typically at about age three. "They have to rely on one another," she says. She talks about the mama bears teaching the young cubs -- how to fish, how to protect themselves.
"Max and Miles are alternately fascinated and bored, focusing on my telephoto lens as much as the action in the meadow. "Interesting for about 10 minutes," Miles says.
I can watch these amazing creatures, some 1,000 pounds, for hours as they snooze, graze in the grass, splash in
And what a playground! Crystal clear water, majestic, snow-covered mountain peaks, wildflowers (purple irises) and nutritious salt grass.
"Bear watching is boring," declares Miles.
"Until something happens," Verm says.
Just like life.
(c) 2009 Eileen Ogintz Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.
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