Friday, March 12, 2010


Grin and Bear It


Recently, I related an experience from living in Alaska to a group of young men and some adults. Later in the week, one of the adults attempted to retell this experience to his wife. He ended up slaughtering a perfectly good story. After this humbling experience, he asked if I would write out the events for him. I figure he may have the ‘Schnupp’ gene. The Schnupp gene prevents one from accurately retelling a good story or joke, in fact, a person suffering from this anomaly will usually blurt out the punch line of a joke well before the joke itself. This gene typically runs in my wife’s family (her maiden name is Schnupp) and can be quite annoying, and it now appears to be branching out. However, I have found one thing I like about this personality defect. After years of interacting with my wife’s brother, I found that this gene can actually result in the turning of a simple retelling of a mildly amusing joke, into a new, more hilarious event that easily outlives the original. But that’s another chapter altogether, and although I could spend a lot of time writing about this brother in law, I hear the bears calling.


In the summer of 1984, I was 24 years old, just out of college, recently married, and jobless. I received a good job offer in Anchorage, AK. My wife and I packed up everything we owned into a pick-up truck and drove the 3,000 plus miles to Anchorage. In the three winters and one summer we spent in Alaska, I was able to do some hunting, fishing and hiking in some fantastic places. Our first daughter, Katie, was born in Alaska. Early on I met a crusty old local guy that recognized how young and na├»ve I was. He was nice enough to show me some hiking and fishing spots. He referred to me as a “Cheechako”, which is the Alaskan term for a Greenhorn, or somebody new to Alaska. He also taught me about the bears in Alaska and how important it is to be able to identify Black Bears and Brown Bears, and to know the differences between the two. Here are some things I learned.
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The first rule about hiking in Alaska’s bear country is to always carry pepper spray and always wear bear bells. Bear bells are sets of tiny bells that tie onto your boot laces. They rattle and ring as you walk and the noise alerts any nearby animals that you are there. This prevents you from accidentally walking up to a bear and surprising it. Surprising a bear, especially a sow with cubs, is not a positive experience. I had seen some black bears in Idaho and they had always run away from me. My friend told me that brown bears also run when they see humans, but not necessarily away from them. He taught me some other differences between black and brown bears. Black bears are smaller and have a narrow head. They don’t have a hump on their shoulders. Not all black bears are black, some can be brown, or even cinnamon colored. Their paw prints point straight ahead and their claws marks line up. Their manure usually has berry seeds, hair, and small bones in it, and smells like manure should. The Alaskan brown bears are much larger than the blacks. They have a hump on their shoulders, and they have a large triangular shaped head. Their color ranges from dark brown to almost blonde. Their front legs are very powerful, their paw prints are much larger and their feet are turned in so these prints are crooked and the claws marks appear in an arch. Their manure is also larger, it usually has little bells in it and it smells like pepper…
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There you go Mark.